The food industry and farm animal welfare
More and more food businesses are recognising that farm animal welfare is an important part of being a responsible business and needs to be proactively managed. There are a number of reasons why a business might wish to adopt higher farm animal welfare standards, from compliance with legislation and voluntary standards to meeting stakeholder expectations and responding to increased market demand. In a recent report by Mintel, three-quarters of UK consumers now rank animal welfare concerns as the top factor which makes a food brand ethical. Alongside this, investors are increasingly interested in the business risks and opportunities associated with farm animal welfare, and how they can be evaluated.
What is Animal welfare?
Animal welfare has three components (figure 1). These three aspects may be considered independently from each other; however they do overlap considerably. The most comprehensive way to measure animal welfare on farm is to look at a combination of “inputs” and “outputs”. Examples of inputs and outputs are shown in figure 2.
Assessing welfare using animal based measures is becoming increasingly common practice as those parameters are considered to be more accurate indicators of welfare. Animal based measures include animal behaviour (e.g. feather pecking in poultry which can be a sign of stress); physiological measures (e.g. the presence of certain hormones in blood samples which can indicate stress) and the incidence and severity of injuries or diseases that can be caused by the environment that the animals are kept in (e.g. lameness in dairy cows).
Animal based measures are increasingly being incorporated within farm assurance scheme standards such as those adopted by the Soil Association and RSPCA Assured and are already required to be assessed in the supply chains of many UK retailers (e.g. Waitrose, M&S).
Measuring farm animal welfare for food businesses
The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) is the first global measure of food companies’ farm animal welfare management, policy commitment, performance and disclosure. It was created to improve corporate reporting on farm animal welfare and drive change amongst global food businesses to improve their animal welfare practices. The complete report from the 2015 benchmark can be found here.
The benchmark is intended to be used by companies, NGOs, investors and consumers to understand the relative performance of food companies in farm animal welfare. It ranks companies against their commitment to animal welfare and the progress that is being made to improve supply chains.
In 2015 the benchmark placed more emphasis on a company’s performance in tackling animal welfare in the supply chain. This is in line with the BBFAW’s longer-term aim for the benchmark to focus on performance on the ground, rather than on management processes. Whilst a policy commitment on animal welfare is recognised to be a good start, it is no longer enough, and food businesses can expect to face more scrutiny if animal welfare is not monitored and improved in the supply chain. To score highly in the area of performance a food business is expected to:
Report on prescribed performance measures set out by the BBFAW on key issues (e.g. the proportion of animals in supply chains that are free from confinement)
Report on other farm animal welfare outcome measures (such as the animal based measures mentioned earlier)
In order to report on animal welfare performance - both through prescribed measures and species / company specific outcome measures - food businesses first need to establish the correct conditions and protocols for their measurement. These will vary between businesses and are dependent on their operations, the extent of their current activities and their current levels of supply chain visibility and influence. Some general steps to be considered may include:
Traceability | Whole life traceability of animal products, from farm to fork is essential to be able to measure performance and should be considered a priority.
Supplier engagement | Only 40% of the companies covered in the 2015 BBFAW report include farm animal welfare measures in requirements to suppliers. Food companies should pursue greater collaboration with their suppliers to improve transparency and information flows in the supply chain. Many companies are achieving this by developing innovative tools for collecting data and sharing knowledge (e.g. AssureWel.org).
Implement a performance framework | Food businesses should adopt animal welfare commitments and clearly set out what performance indicators are to be assessed. This should include specific measures for each species and can include reference to recognised standards.
Establish monitoring processes | Systems are required to collect data under each performance measure. This may include the introduction of independent assessors that are trained in animal welfare assessment.
Training programme | A training program for internal assessors would allow for standardisation and objective measurement. This helps maintain credibility and comparability.
Making use of the data | Data collected not only allows monitoring of performance but can also be used to benchmark supplier performance to identify improvements. This allows best practice to be shared across the supplier base and the ability to target resources at under-performing suppliers.
How can ADAS help?
With its expert knowledge across all farmed animal species, ADAS has worked with retailers, foodservice, processors, universities and animal welfare organisations to set the agenda, assess, monitor and improve animal welfare across the supply chain. Our experts understand the drivers across the supply chain, from farmer to retailer and are well placed to help your business make progress on animal welfare.
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Tel: +44 (0) 1179 825591