Every year billions of farm animals are raised in inhumane conditions all over the world. Welfare standards vary widely from country to country. Farm animals are often reared in conditions which do not allow them to express natural behaviour; they are pushed to their physiological limits, suffer mutilations and confinement and are kept in overcrowded conditions. One thing is clear, humane and sustainable agriculture needs food production methods which provide the world with sufficient, accessible and healthy food, while treating animals, people and the environment with respect.
Our experience shows us that it is the companies who have a critical role to play here. Companies have a direct impact on farm animal welfare both in their own operations and through their supply chains; helping to drive change through the suppliers they do business with.
This is why the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare report launched today is so hugely welcome and why World Society for the Protection of Animals is supporting it. It is a report not about naming and shaming companies, but to shine a spotlight on the good practices and encourage companies and investors to consider farm animal welfare as a business issue.
Unbelievably it is the first structured benchmark of the world's leading food companies - looking objectively at the state of farm animal welfare policy within the food industry. What strikes me is that the business case for companies to be concerned about farm animal welfare is compelling: regulation (in particular within the EU), consumer concern, pressure from animal welfare NGOs, and media concerns about poor corporate practices mean that farm animal welfare is an important business risk to be managed.
And at a time when the European Union agriculture ministers are set to meet in Brussels for talks widely expected to focus on the continent's growing horsemeat scandal, it raises a number of ethical and business risk dilemmas for food companies. No, the horsemeat issues are not directly linked to farm animal welfare but there are definitely a number of parallels to be drawn. For example, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters (which is governed by EU legislation for certain species) is associated with a number of concerns linked to both the health and welfare of animals and also human health.
There are also the issues relating to the escalating cost of producing meat at industrial scale which, clearly, have a bearing on the welfare of animals as much as on the quality of meat, with producers under increasing pressure to apply cost savings where possible. I would say that the issue of horsemeat in products has highlighted the complexity of food supply chains and the growing expectations on food companies to be responsible and transparent to reassure consumers about the quality and the provenance of their food products.
At World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) we have been working hard to persuade companies, governments, farmers and consumers that high welfare farming is better for all.
It is only the beginning, but our hope is that this report has started something, and at a time when the spotlight is on the food industry, it will encourage all businesses to adopt good practices and to create positive change for animals, people and the environment on a global scale.
Visit WSPA Website: www.wspa-international.org
More information on the programme can be found at www.bbfaw.com
The report can be read here: http://www.bbfaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/BBFAW_Report_Low_Res.pdf