Producers and brands put the spotlight on animal welfare

SPONSORED CONTENT: World Animal Protection's Darren Vanstone discusses Nestle's Commitment to Farm Animal Welfare

Nestlé’s new Commitment to Farm Animal Welfare, puts the welfare of the animals in their supply chain at the center of their sustainability work. The result of an ongoing partnership with World Animal Protection, it will impact Nestlé’s 7,300 suppliersand the hundreds of thousands of farms and millions of farm animals that produce Nestlé’s meat, dairy and eggs.

The Commitment targets intensive confinement systems (battery cages for laying hens, tethering for dairy cattle, veal and sow crates), painful procedures (tail docking, castration, dehorning, disbudding), fast growing breeds and the use of antibiotics and hormones as a start.   It also commits to third party audits and yearly reporting.

Nestlé’s supply chain is large and incredibly complex. Its suppliers and producers are global; they are in highly regulated countries as well as minimally regulated ones. The producers range from modern industrial operations to small subsistence farms.  This combination of size and complexity is problematic for the brand.

Consumers expect brands like Nestlé to ensure farm animals will be treated well regardless of where they are farmed or scale of production. In a New York Times article that accompanied the release of the commitment, chief procurement officer for North America, Kevin Petrie notes that consumers “want to know where things come from and share that information.” Incidents of on-farm abuse or poor welfare are shared quickly on social media and brands are often named publicly. While the complexity of their supply chain and the changing expectations of consumers around farm animal welfare represent a real risk to Nestlé’s brand, they also represent an opportunity.

The partnership between Nestlé and World Animal Protection is really a commitment to a process of continuous improvement.  The standards are based on the Five Freedoms and will be implemented locally with input from suppliers, producers and other stakeholders. Third party auditors will build a baseline of data to establish the current states.  They will also measure the impact of any improvements to the lives of farm animals.

Canadian producers are already ahead of many others around the world.  Canada’s Codes of Practice have banned tail docking in dairy cows and gestation crates for sows.  Provincial groups like the Egg Farmers of Alberta and the Manitoba Egg Farmers have also committed to phasing out battery cages.  An audit program is being piloted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Canadian businesses have also seen the opportunity to build their brand and connect with consumers.  Maple Leaf Foods, Olymel and the Retail Council of Canada’s grocery members all committed to sourcing only gestation crate-free pork before the new Code in 2014. Loblaw sources only cage-free eggs for its private label eggs and Sobeys carries a line of Certified Humane meats.  Members of the Calgary Co-op passed a resolution to phase out the sale of eggs from caged laying hens and pork from systems using gestation crates in 2013.

Connected consumers are more interested in the care of farm animals than ever before.  They have expectations about how farm animals are raised.  While there is risk where those expectations and reality are not the same, there is also opportunity.