How the nation’s supermarkets can help raise animal welfare standards

CONSUMERS are increasingly concerned about the way in which farm animals are treated. With most of the nation&#039s food shopping now taking place in supermarkets, the multiple retailers...

CONSUMERS are increasingly concerned about the way in which farm animals are treated.
With most of the nation&#039s food shopping now taking place in supermarkets, the multiple retailers have become the main link between the farm and the food we put into our shopping baskets.
Compassion in World Farming Trust (CIWF Trust) conducts a biennial survey of supermarket standards and performance on farm animal welfare in order to raise those standards and to inform consumers about how their food is produced.
The first CIWF Trust ‘Raising the Standard&#039 survey was conducted in 2001 and sought to benchmark the UK&#039s leading supermarkets on farm animal welfare standards.
This was achieved by issuing a questionnaire on key areas of animal welfare to the ten biggest UK supermarkets. The survey was repeated in 2003 as part of an ongoing project that aims to track progress and commitment to these standards in order to improve the lives of farm animals.
It also highlights the need for greater attention to welfare standards as part of each company&#039s corporate responsibility for social issues.
In order to compare the performance of the major UK supermarkets, and to monitor their progress toward higher standards of farm animal welfare, the supermarkets are scored on their responses to the questions, reflecting their performance on key indicators of animal welfare.
These key indicators are based on the elements identified by CIWF Trust as part of its vision of the ‘ideal&#039 welfare-friendly supermarket, and cover supermarket policy and investment in improving animal welfare; the welfare of each farm animal species, including the systems they are reared in, stocking densities, the provision of bedding material, and mutilations they are subjected to; the welfare of farmed fish, including stocking densities and slaughter methods; sales of exotic and luxury animal products; the sourcing of animals from livestock markets and journey times of animals travelling to slaughter.
Waitrose received the CIWF Trust ‘Compassionate Supermarket of the Year 2003-2004&#039 award, after overtaking M&S, the winners of the 2001-2002 award, to take top spot.
The 2003 survey revealed a welcome trend towards free range eggs, but it also identified areas that need further progress from the UK&#039s major supermarkets.
Progress is urgently needed to raise welfare standards for the indoor-farming of pigs and the rearing of chickens for meat where the vast majority are intensively farmed.
The 2005 survey is now underway and incorporates an expanded range of questions.
The results will be announced in November.
Battery cages for laying hens are to be banned across the EU from 2012.
Supermarkets have a key role to play in ensuring that the ban can be successfully implemented without harming the livelihoods of European egg producers.
It is essential that the major retailers make a commitment to only sell eggs produced to the equivalent of EU welfare standards. Moving away from sales of battery eggs is seen by CIWF Trust as a key indicator of performance on farm animal welfare.
M&S is the first UK supermarket to sell only free-range eggs, both in shell and as egg ingredient in its entire range of processed foods and ready made meals.
Waitrose sells only non-cage eggs, both in shell and as egg ingredient.
In a very welcome move, the Co-op has now set a target date of 2007 by which it intends to sell only free-range shell eggs.
Broiler chickens are often kept in their thousands in windowless sheds at such high stocking densities that they soon carpet the floor. UK government guidelines specify a maximum stocking density of 34kg/m2.
Only M&S and Waitrose stipulate this maximum, which CIWF Trust believes is itself too high.
All other supermarkets allow chickens to be kept at stocking densities up to 38 kg/m2, thereby exceeding Government guidelines.
Consumers wishing to buy more humanely reared chicken can choose free-range or organic options.
Several supermarkets, including Morrison&#039s, Sainsbury&#039s and Somerfield, are still selling pigmeat imported from stall and/or tether systems.
In these systems, sows are unable to exercise or turn around throughout their four-month pregnancy and are kept like this for pregnancy after pregnancy; in other words, for most of their adult life.
Sow stalls have been banned in the UK on cruelty grounds.
CIWF Trust believes it is unacceptable for UK supermarkets to sell pigmeat produced in a system that is illegal here.
EU law prohibits the routine tail-docking of piglets and requires all pigs to be provided with manipulable materials such as straw to allow them to forage.
This helps to keep them occupied so that they don&#039t resort to biting each others&#039 tails.
The CIWF Trust surveys has raised serious questions about the implementation of these legal requirements for the welfare of pigs.
Many pigs are still not provided with material for foraging and the majority of pigmeat sold by most supermarkets still comes from pigs that have been tail-docked.
However, since the first survey in 2001, there have been some very welcome increases in the proportion of pigmeat produced from breeding sows kept outdoors and all the major supermarkets now sell some outdoor-bred pigmeat.
The enormous buying power of the major supermarkets gives them huge potential to influence the welfare of farmed animals.
CIWF Trust believes that supermarkets have a social and ethical responsibility to use their influence to improve the lives of farm animals.
In order to progress towards better conditions for farm animals, CIWF Trust is making the following 12 recommendations to all supermarkets:
• Insist on reduced stocking densities for indoor-reared broiler chickens
• Promote greater sales of free-range and organically reared chickens
• Follow the lead of M&S and Waitrose in no longer selling eggs and egg ingredient produced in battery cages
• Stop selling imported pigmeat produced using sow stalls and tethers
• Insist that all farmed animals are provided with bedding material
• Insist that farm animals are not subjected to unnecessary mutilations
• Promote greater sales of pigmeat from pigs farmed outdoors
• Insist on the lowest possible journey times for animals travelling to slaughter. Maximum journey times should be no more than 8 hours for mammals, and 4 hours for birds
• Insist that policies on maximum journey times are equally applicable to imported meat as well as animals produced domestically
• Stop using livestock markets to source animals
• Raise farmed fish welfare standards by demanding that suppliers rear fish at much reduced stocking densities, use only humane slaughter methods, and stop the practice of prolonged pre-slaughter starvation
• Set a clear policy of not stocking produce from genetically engineered or cloned animals.
The full reports of the CIWF Trust ‘Raising the Standard&#039 surveys are available on the CIWF website: • Heather Pickett is Information and Research Officer for Compassion in World Farming Trust.

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