10/12/2013 06:49 GMT | Updated 08/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Animal Welfare Isn't on the Agenda

The TV programme Dragon's Den sees entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to investors willing to fund them. It makes for tense viewing as prospective entrepreneurs frequently crumble before a tough grilling on all aspects of their business plans. It's apparent that all investors, not just those on TV, are keen to know as much as possible about a business in order to reduce the risks of investing.

What I find surprising is that some businesses are failing to address real investor concerns on farm animal welfare issues. Particularly as companies are facing increased scrutiny of their supply chains post horse meat scandal. Clearly, not effectively managing farm animal welfare poses potentially devastating risks to a food business.

Two years ago, myself and my colleagues at Compassion in World Farming recognised that investors play a crucial role in changing the way our food is produced. There was a need for a go-to evaluation for investors that showed which companies were effectively managing animal welfare business risks, and which weren't.

Thus, the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) was created and completed an assessment of food companies in 2012. It is the first global measure of food businesses farm animal welfare management, policies and communication.

The Benchmark has just released its second report assessing 70 global food businesses and whilst 70% acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue, only 56% have published a formal farm animal welfare policy. Furthermore, just 41% have published objectives and targets for animal welfare.

Dr Rory Sullivan, expert advisor to the Business Benchmark, describes farm animal welfare as an "immature business issue" when compared to other corporate responsibility concerns.

Whilst currently immature, farm animal welfare is an emerging business issue; since 2012 there has been a 10% increase in the number of companies that have published formal farm animal welfare policies. As well as a 15% increase in the number of companies that have published objectives and targets for farm animal welfare. The Benchmark has played a catalytic role in putting animal welfare on the business and investor agenda, pushing companies to acknowledge animal welfare as a business issue and forcing them to take action.

I'm delighted to hear that both Coop Group (Switzerland) and Marks & Spencer are showing leadership in farm animal welfare and have come out top this year. As well as managing animal welfare risks, embracing higher animal welfare can be embraced as a business opportunity.

Faced with the risk of proverbially 'leaving with nothing' from investors, now is the time for food businesses to act on animal welfare.

The Benchmark is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).