22/12/2015 12:29 GMT | Updated 22/12/2016 05:12 GMT

Change for Chickens: How NGO-Corporate Partnerships Can Have Global Impact for Farm Animals


© World Animal Protection/

With 70 billion animals farmed for food annually, most of them in industrial systems, poor animal welfare is a common challenge that cannot be ignored. A better life for these animals relies on making global, large-scale changes within the food industry. World Animal Protection is working to do exactly that.

Take the issue of egg-laying hens for example: picture yourself as an unhatched female chick, ready to enter the world. You've spent around 20 days cocooned in your egg, warm and safe. After hours of patient chipping at the tough shell that's kept you alive for the last few weeks, you finally break free. It's one of nature's miracles. But if you're one of the unlucky ones, your next home is a cramped cage, in which you'll spend your whole life laying eggs for the world's dining tables. This is the sad reality for billions of chicks every year.

Thankfully, this story often has a happier ending these days. For egg-laying chicks at least, we are moving slowly but surely to a "post-cage" era. Nestlé, the world's largest food company today announced they will use only cage-free eggs in all U.S. products within the next five years. This move means that ultimately millions of hens will have better lives every year, living free of cages.

When multinational corporations such as Nestlé make a change to their supply chain, the effects can be truly profound, improving the lives of billions of farm animals. The food giant joins a growing group of companies - including Panera, Taco Bell and McDonald's - that now recognise a cage is no place for a hen.

World Animal Protection has been working closely with Nestlé since 2014 to help them ensure the highest possible levels of welfare for the animals they rear for food. It's not a case of simply meeting government standards, which, depending on the country, can be poor or, in the worst cases, non-existent. It's about innovating to meet public demand for sustenance without the suffering that has become commonplace in so many industrial farming systems.

Like any successful relationship, our partnership with Nestlé is based on mutual respect and honesty. We understand that Nestlé is a complex, global business operating in a complex, global environment; change won't happen overnight. And Nestlé understands that we are devoted to protecting all animals and ensuring that they have good lives.

The animal movement is, quite rightly, a loud and passionate one, and not always known for its desire to partner with "big business". I can understand why. For too long now, the corporate sector (as well as other sectors) has at times seemed blind to the need to include animal protection as a core business concern, instead moving at glacial speed to meet the minimum standards set by legislation. But we have a clear model for creating global change for animals, and that is to tackle the issue at a systemic level rather than trying to solve one piece of the puzzle. It's why we work with businesses and other influential stakeholders who are as much a part of the solution as the challenge, if not more.

Changing the world doesn't come easily, but our work is improving the lives of many of the world's farm animals.

World Animal Protection works to protect all animals in agriculture, not just chickens - read more about how we are supporting 70 billion farm animals.