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Food giants join global coalition to improve how farm animals are treated

The industry-led Global Coalition for Animal Welfare now has 12 members with US$390 billion in combined revenue. Farm animal welfare has gained importance in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Five major food companies, some which export to Asia and Australia, have joined an industry coalition that aims to improve how animals farmed for food are treated.

With the addition of American food giant Tyson Foods, British groceries retailer Tesco, American food firm The Cheesecake Factory, Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods and London Stock Exchange-listed Hilton Food Group, the Global Coalition for Animal Welfare (GCAW) now has 12 members.

Its seven founding members are IKEA Food Services, Nestle, Sodexo, Unilever, Compass Group, Elior Group and Aramark.

Formed two years ago, GCAW is the world’s first industry-led collaboration aimed at improving the welfare of animals in the food supply chain.

Farm animal welfare has gained importance in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, with experts warning that intensive farming methods and misuse of antibiotics can increase the risk of diseases spreading from animals to humans, as well as pandemics.

With more corporate giants on board, GCAW can galvanise the knowhow to “develop an industry-led approach to transforming the welfare of the most farmed species, including laying hens, broiler chickens and pigs”, said Nicky Amos, managing director of Chronos Sustainability, which is the secretariat to GCAW.  

Its 12 members have a combined revenue of about US$390 billion.

Based on information publicly disclosed by some companies, the members farm or process at least tens of millions of pigs, chickens, cattle and fish a year.

Tyson, for instance, supplies about one-fifth of the United States’ beef, pork and chicken, and also operates in China, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. It was among the food giants called out by non-governmental groups and activists for “cruel” practices towards animals and employees during the pandemic.

Asked if members must commit to a common set of animal welfare standards, Amos said GCAW does not specify the commitments companies should make, as those depend on their business and supply chains.

However, “all coalition members see animal welfare as a business issue”, she said. They either have comprehensive animal welfare policies in place, or are in the process of creating them, added Amos.

All seven founding members have pledged to source 100-per-cent cage-free eggs by 2025, for instance. Cage-free eggs are laid by hens that are not enclosed in cages but are kept in barns or other enclosures that allow them to exhibit more natural behaviour, such as perching.

Will Asian firms join the coalition?

In the first two years, GCAW has hosted briefings by animal welfare experts and created a progress tracker on members’ cage-free egg commitments.

It also commissioned a report on the transition to cage-free eggs in China, the world’s largest producer of eggs. Next year, it will host a workshop for members to discuss the economics of better welfare for broiler chickens, which are farmed for meat. The format of the workshop will adhere to antitrust laws which guard against anti-competitive business practices.

Amos did not say if GCAW has engaged Asian companies to join the coalition, but noted that Asian food companies are generally lagging behind their peers in treating animal welfare as a business issue. A few have begun responding to increased scrutiny from consumers, the media and investors, she said.

They include Thailand’s CP Foods, which announced in June how it was moving towards farming practices that ensure animals are free from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, and are free to express their normal behaviour. Its broiler chickens no longer have their beaks trimmed and are given materials to peck at, for example.

Last year, CP Foods abolished the castration of over 700,000 piglets, the teeth clipping of more than two million piglets and tail docking of more than 3,000 piglets, the company said. Castration of piglets is a widespread industry practice to reduce the odour of pork from boars. Piglets’ teeth are clipped to reduce damage to sows’ teats and to other piglets, and tails are docked to prevent tail-biting.

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