When animal welfare groups begin singing the praises of the largest food company in the world, you know something monumental has happened.
In August, Nestlé announced a number of sweeping changes to its business practices which are aimed at improving the welfare of farmed animals in its international supply chain. Nestlé says that these changes mean all 7,300 of its international suppliers will have to meet the “highest possible levels of farm animal welfare” related to:
- Confining female pigs in gestation crates
- Confining calves in veal crates
- Confining egg-laying chickens in battery cages
- Forcing too rapid growth of chickens used for meat products
- Dehorning, docking tails and castration without painkillers
- Irresponsible use of antibiotics
After giving them a chance to comply, Nestlé will drop suppliers who can’t or won’t meet the new standards. The company said it recognizes and will implement “the internationally accepted ‘Five Freedoms’ as applied to animals,” which are:
1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
2. Freedom from fear and distress
3. Freedom from physical and thermal discomfort
4. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
5. Freedom to express normal patterns of behavior
If you buy products like DiGiorno’s Pizza, Lean Cuisine, Hot Pockets, Tombstone Pizza, Dreyer’s ice cream and Skinny Cow, just to name a few, you’re a Nestlé customer. Nestlé says that while these improvements will cost it money, it won’t pass those costs on to the consumer.
Worried that the company won’t be as good as its word? To assure independent oversight, Nestlé is partnering with World Animal Protection International (WAP), a non-governmental animal welfare organization.
“Our decision to work with Nestlé is based upon their clear commitment to improving animal welfare,” said WAP Chief Executive Mike Baker, “and the lasting change this can have on millions of farm animals around the world.”
An independent auditor, SGS, will “carry out checks to ensure the new standards of animal welfare are met on its supplying farms,” says Nestlé. Now that this commitment is public, it looks like Nestlé is really going to have to walk the talk. Lip service won’t be enough. The eyes of animal welfare advocates are riveted on the company’s next steps.
“[B]y the end of ,” according to the company, “40 percent of the company’s key commodities, including meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, will be fully traceable.”
Most consumers want to believe that the products they buy aren’t harming animals. For the most part, that’s just not true. While the best way to ensure that outcome is to go vegan, not everyone is willing to do so.
For a world that still eats incredible amounts of meat, eggs and dairy, these new business practices announced by the biggest food company on the planet are nothing to sneeze at. The welfare of millions of farmed animals around the world will improve.
“We know that our consumers care about the welfare of farm animals and we, as a company, are committed to ensuring the highest possible levels of farm animal welfare across our global supply chain,” Benjamin Ware, manager of responsible sourcing for Nestlé, told the Los Angeles Times.
Of course, Nestlé didn’t make these changes out of the goodness of its corporate heart. Not really. You may remember the brouhaha from late 2013, when Mercy for Animals released video footage from an undercover investigation that showed employees from a Nestlé dairy supplier in Wisconsin treating cows in a horrifying and brutal manner.
The investigation revealed workers kicking, whipping, prodding, stabbing and beating cows. They also dragged downed cows with tractors, using chains attached to their legs and necks. Nestlé cut ties with this supplier and the dairy’s employees were convicted of abuse, but the damage to its image lingered. Customers don’t like to see animals abused for corporate profit.
Hence the dawn of the new Nestlé, which is positioning itself to be the most animal-friendly major corporation in the world, so far. Animal welfare advocates hope Nestlé’s changes trigger similar moves by other food industry giants. Make no mistake, major animal groups are very pleased with this development.
“Nestlé’s new industry-leading policy will reduce the suffering of millions of animals each year and hopefully inspire other food providers to implement and enforce similar animal welfare requirements,” said Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle.
Mercy for Animals’ investigations director Matt Rice adds that what Nestlé has done “may be the most comprehensive and far-reaching animal welfare policy change in history.”
“Bundling all of these reforms together, this announcement marks the most comprehensive and ambitious animal welfare program by a global food retailer to date,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
Of course, other aspects of Nestlé’s business practices still rankle environmentalists, and not without good reason. Notably, many strongly object to the environmental impacts caused by the company’s continued and expanding withdrawal of millions of gallons water around the country, which it then bottles and sells.
No, Nestlé’s not perfect. However, there’s no denying this change in its animal welfare practices might be the first step in a sea change pertaining to treatment of farmed animals. If Nestlé wins enough goodwill to increase its bottom line, other corporations won’t want to be left behind. Time will tell.
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