When agrifood focuses more on animal welfare

Summary

How can the living conditions of livestock – so often decried by consumers and associations – be improved? From farms to supermarket aisles, players along the food supply chain are making commitments to better animal welfare.

13Sept.
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88%: the proportion of French people who expect better protection for farm animals, according to the latest Eurobarometer[1], published by the European Commission in March 2016. 72% would like more information about the conditions under which livestock is treated, and 68% even say they would be willing to pay more for products sourced from more animal-friendly production systems.

A clear demand for more ethical products

In other words, there is a clear demand, on the consumer side, for more ethical products. But what about on the supply side, among players in the food industry?

The lines are really starting to move now. We saw a strong sign of this the US in recent months, with McDonald’s, Walmart and Sodexo, each of which in turn has made a commitment to only use cage-free eggs, going forward. In Europe, Aldi, Monoprix and Harrys all followed that same path this year. These efforts did not go unnoticed by CIWF (Compassion in World Farming), which campaigns for farm animal welfare and even awarded them the Golden Egg this summer.

And distributors aren’t the only one changing their habits: new practices are also emerging among farmers. In the Netherlands, Roundel completely redesigned its facilities to pamper its chickens. In a vast building something like a circus tent, 30,000 chickens are housed in three star shapes. Divided into multiple units, they can move freely from their aviaries to exercise grounds, a little slice of nature created indoors. The hens can do as they like in their spaces, walking around, scratching the ground or taking a dust bath, all natural reflexes of which they’re deprived when kept in battery cages. And here, their beaks aren’t trimmed, unlike at most livestock farms, where that is common practice to prevent them from pecking at each other – a behavior precipitated by excessive proximity.

Initiatives are also generating buzz in the world of pigs

The hogs bred by farmer Thierry Schweitzer in Alsace sleep on straw bedding and can give birth outdoors. Their feed is guaranteed to be free of GMOs, antibiotic additives, flour and lard, so as not to artificially accelerate their growth. A world apart from industrial pig farms, where each animal is confined in an individual pen, in which they’re unable to move around, often leading to abnormal behavior (like gnawing on the bars, rolling the tongue, etc.). Because of their lower stress levels, the Alsatian farmer’s pigs are also of better quality, a point that his clients certainly appreciate. For example, when a retailer decided to remove his charcuterie products from its shelves in 2015, consumers rallied to demand they be brought back. Two months later, their efforts paid off, and the retailer called the farmer back…

With regard to transportation, a lot of work still needs to be done. In late August 2016, CIWF launched a campaign on the subject, entitled “Animals are not Freight,” alongside other animal rights organizations. In fact, it is not uncommon for cattle to cross all of Europe on a truck, involving multiple days on the road for animals that become dehydrated, exhausted and stressed. This is why the organization is calling for the complete abolition of live animal exports outside the European Union.

Combating animal stress is also the pet subject of Britt-Marie Stegs, from Sweden, who came up with a mobile abattoir. For the past year and a half, three trucks owned by her company, Hälsingestintan, have been traveling across the Swedish countryside, slaughtering cattle directly on the farm. The goal is to reduce the stress in animals caused by hours of transportation and waiting at a slaughterhouse. “When an animal is stressed, it produces hormones that make its meat tougher and foul-smelling,” as director Britt-Marie Stegs explained to Reporterre this past June.

To avoid excessive transit times for animals, there is also a solution on the consumer end, by choosing to eat chickens, for example, that frolicked just a couple miles away, not on the other side of the planet.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/COMMFrontOffice/PublicOpinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/SPECIAL/surveyKy/2096.

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