cows animal welfare farm

Animal welfare increasingly matters to consumers, NGOs and businesses alike. With a clear moral and business imperative to prioritise high animal welfare, can the food industry work in partnerships to achieve the transformational change needed?

It will come as no surprise that animal-loving UK consumers expect high standards in animal welfare; a 2008 RSPCA study found 80% of people in the UK think high animal welfare is key to a civilised society. What may be more surprising is that consumers consistently rate farm animal welfare above food health and safety as the most important sustainability issue.

Good farming practices can be a key differentiator for brands. However, achieving the transformational change needed can be a complex process both for companies to implement and for consumers to navigate.

For a start, there is no common global standard on what high animal welfare is. What is considered ‘good’ – and certifiable – varies enormously across regions and species. Programmes for the implementation of good animal welfare may be based on voluntary standards agreed by industry, or developed by third-party certification bodies. We need transparency on exactly which standard the welfare criteria of products are based so consumers can navigate codes and labels.

High welfare also depends on successful implementation by supply chain partners. Suppliers may need support to adapt to welfare requirements and implementation requires consistent auditing and reporting.

Two years ago, Knorr sought the advice of Compassion in World Farming to determine exactly what we could do. We set a goal – to ensure good animal welfare across the entirety of our global business by 2020. This means reaching what CIWF defines as Level 3 animal welfare, detailing requirements such as adequate space, light, climate and enrichment for all animals.

These criteria are based on the needs of different species to ensure animals are able to exhibit their natural behaviour. For chickens, for example, this means giving them enough space to move around; with pigs, it’s a ban on all confinement crates and practices such as tail docking, among other requirements in both cases. Armed with these criteria, last year we conducted independent checks and compiled reports on the standards of our suppliers and farms, summarising where improvements are required to elevate our standards.

We know transformational change can’t be achieved unless the whole industry gets on board. We’ve looked at our claw, trotter and hoof print across the globe and it’s clear we can’t do it alone. Working in partnership means we can combine complementary supply chains, reduce complexity and speak with one voice to our suppliers. It makes change cost effective, higher impact and easier to implement.

The potential for scale is huge. But it’s only by forming partnerships that we can make the biggest difference as fast as possible in a manner true to our sustainable growth model. If you share that view, we’re listening.

David Pendlington is procurement operations director, sustainable sourcing at Knorr