Consumers demand action on animal welfare: Where do Food companies stand?

1 August 2012

Consumers all over the world have differing opinions on how to deal with the growing consumption of livestock products (meat, milk, eggs, cheese, etc) despite increasing evidence showing undesirable environmental impacts resulting from dramatic consumption patterns. But, overwhelmingly, consumers agree that inhumane treatment of animals under intensive industrial farming and the associated consequences for food safety and sustainability must be addressed with urgency by food companies especially.

Scientific studies indicate that an improvement in animal welfare has great potential for reducing on-farm risks to food safety. But are food companies taking these facts seriously? The European Food Safety Authority Eurobarometer 2010 survey results show that more consumers are worried over the welfare of farmed animals than in the last 5 years.  But are food companies listening to consumers? Let’s take a quick look at how some major food companies are responding in Dairy, Pig, and Poultry sectors.


These days, dairy companies enjoy a smartly crafted public appearance that leaves consumers with the visions of a happy, well-fed and well-treated animal. This makes it very easy to overlook the dark secret of animal abuse lurking behind an inconspicuous glass of milk. The fact is, today many cows raised in industrial dairy production in many parts of the world are still intensively confined, making it cumbersome for them to even nurse their calves. They are often genetically manipulated and pumped with antibiotics and hormones just for increased milk production. They develop mastitis, a painful inflammation of their mammary glands – an infection common in cows raised for industrial milk production. Leading dairy companies appear to be making measured efforts to change, but heightened progress is strongly encouraged. In the table below I summarize some of the efforts of the top dairy companies in the world (based on 2009 annual turnover).

* Efforts made by Global Top Dairy companies on animal welfare
Nestle Animal welfare will be addressed as part of a new Responsible Sourcing Guidelines for animal-based products, to be launched in 2012. Independent third parties are already auditing key suppliers of animal-based products.
DANONE A methodology for assessing animal well-being was designed in 2011 in collaboration with the campaign and lobby animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming; this will be rolled out starting in 2012.
Lactalis Implemented a good practice charter for its milk producers -“Cap sur l’Avenir”.  Charter ensures amongst others the respect of good breeding practices, monitoring and treatment of animals and practices to improve the animals’ well-being.
Friesland Campina Employs the Foqus Planet quality and sustainability system, which regulates its farmers on four themes: milk, cow, production process, and surrounding area. The theme ‘cow’ specifies criteria related to animal health, animal welfare and
the responsible use of animal medicines.
Fonterra Developed an Animal welfare (Dairy cattle) Code of welfare since 2010. States that it supports the internationally recognized five freedoms of animal welfare.
Dean Supports and promotes the National Dairy FARM Program, a US nationwide verifiable program that addresses animal well-being.
Arla Foods Supports its members to ensure compliance with the Assured Dairy Farm Scheme (now Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy Scheme) on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. Works closely with CMI UK, which has a team of AFS-accredited auditors that inspect compliance on their farms regularly.
DFA Created The Gold Standard Dairy Program to proactively address the concerns of stakeholders. The program’s on-farm audit assesses areas including animal care and wellness, environmental stewardship and milk safety and quality. Incorporates the National Dairy FARM program.
Kraft Requires their facilities and direct suppliers’ facilities in the U.S. and EU that manage live animals to meet industry standards and government regulations on animal welfare. (e.g. In the US for beef and pork: America Meat Institute standard).
Unilever Published a position statement encouraging suppliers to participate in initiatives that define good animal welfare practices in the countries and/or regions where they are sourcing, processing and marketing products from animal origin. Its working method for monitoring and improving animal welfare will be based on the so-called five ‘freedoms’.
* These claims were found in publicly available documentation from these companies. Their implementation has neither been verified by the author of this blog nor by Fairfood International.


Globally, over 50 billion chickens are reared annually as a source of food. Around 70 per cent of chickens raised for meat globally are raised in intensive industrial farming systems. Intensive production methods typically keep chickens in overcrowded conditions where many of their natural behaviors cannot be expressed. A large number of chickens are found dead before they arrive to slaughterhouses due to injuries sustained from appalling crating and transport conditions. For chickens raised for eggs, the use of battery cages is still prevalent despite the EU ban effective January 2012. Consumers demand a change. Fast food giants McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken have both been under serious criticism for animal cruelty issues associated with chickens; two very prominent ones are from the NGO People for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA)McCruelty and Kentuckyfriedcruelty.


About 1.4 billion pigs are slaughtered yearly for meat mainly in China, EU, US and Brazil. Castration of male pigs and teeth clipping without anesthetics still occur in the industry and although tail docking in the EU for instance has been banned, there are still several occurrences. Furthermore, pigs are still kept in sow stalls during pregnancy in most parts of the world and although by the 1st of January 2013, the EU Ban on sow stalls will take effect, it is believed that this practice will continue for quite some time.  Of course efforts by food companies to make necessary changes are still very slow despite increasing consumer demands and some legislations. Recently, the animal rights group Mercy for Animals (MFA) released an undercover video about horrific treatment of pigs in Christensen Farms one of the largest pork producers and retail giant Walmart’s supplier. The Humane Society uncovered animal (Pig) cruelty issues in a Smithfield Foods subsidiary farm in Virginia; Smithfield has since re-committed to phasing out gestation crates use by 2017. Sodexo also recently committed recently to working with its pork suppliers to ensure that gestation stalls are phased out in its supply chains by 2022. Other retail and wholesale giants are also asking suppliers to adhere to their animal welfare policies e.g. Costco, Kroger.

Food companies must increasingly take responsibility for improving the welfare of livestock (e.g. Dairy, Poultry, Pig, Fish, etc) in their supply chains by ensuring that they develop and enforce a strict policy code on animal welfare for their suppliers and that their suppliers implement viable standards and certification that sufficiently address animal welfare issues (examples: USDA, EU Organic certifications, Soil Association, Red Tractor Assured Food Standards, RSPCA Freedom Foods certification, MSC, amongst others). Evidently, there is a business case for doing so! In its note Creating Business Opportunity through Improved Animal Welfare, the International Finance Corporation, (member of the World Bank Group) indicates that addressing animal welfare concerns strengthens [food] companies’ long-term financial and economic viability.

While a few food companies are responding to consumer demands and complying with existing regulations, it is clear that quite a lot of them still need some nudging. Consumers must therefore continue to support advocacy efforts from organisations like Fairfood International to instill a sense of urgency in food and beverage companies and stop issues like inhumane treatment of livestock and its associated negative consequences for food safety and sustainability in food supply chains worldwide.

Anselm Iwundu is the Executive Director of Fairfood International.