Companies oppose animal protein questions in welfare benchmark

Terry Sim, March 31, 2023

MOST companies have not supported the inclusion of questions on reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods in the international Business Benchmark For Animal Welfare.

However, according to the benchmark’s summary of responses report on recent public consultation on proposed revisions to its company assessment criteria, BBFAW is continuing with the new animal-sourced protein focus, with some changes.

The BBFAW analyses the farm animal welfare policies, management systems, reporting and performance of 150 of the world’s largest food companies and sees itself as “the most authoritative and comprehensive global account of corporate practice on farm animal welfare.”

However, the benchmark’s proposal to include eight new questions enabling the ranking of companies on their commitment to reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods has concerned Australian livestock producers and led to calls for major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths to dissociate from the benchmark. The companies are unable to opt out of assessment by BBFAW. The benchmark is based on publicly available information and is not an elective benchmark for companies.

In its summary report, BBFAW said that the animal-sourced food reliance proposal to introduce the new questions was not supported by the majority of companies.

“However, other feedback indicated support for the proposed approach,” the report said.

A recent BBFAW webinar also indicated only minority support for the inclusion of the animal protein reliance questions. Webinar participants were asked if they agreed with introducing questions on reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods into the BBFAW methodology, and 68pc opposed this, with 16pc agreeing and 16pc unsure. BBFAW partners Compassion in World Farming and Four Paws International are aiming for a 50 percent reduction in the number of animals farmed globally for food by 2040, although during the webinar BBFAW executive director Nicky Amos said the benchmark changes are aimed at “achieving the outcomes that we are seeking” and that reducing reliance on animal protein increased the potential to improve the welfare of animals farmed for food. Ms Amos said there was “no intention through the benchmark to be promoting a future where animals are not farmed for food.”

The proposed questions on reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods aim to assess:

  • a company’s acknowledgement of the need to reduce reliance on animal-sourced foods as a business issue;
  • policies on reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods;
  • explanations of the policy scope;
  • board/senior management and operational responsibility for reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods;
  • customer communications and awareness-raising activities;
  • time-bound targets for reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods;
  • reporting on volumes of animal-sourced foods by type (meat, dairy, fish, eggs), and;
  • reporting on progress towards its targets for reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods.

According to the ‘Summary of Responses to the Public Consultation on the 2022 Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare’, BBFAW said it had made a number of significant changes to the animal-sourced foods questions to enable points to be awarded for company policies, management processes and reporting focused on protein diversification.

BBFAW said six of the questions (Q14, 15, 22, 23, 29 and 51 in proposals, Q13, 14, 21, 22, 28 and 50 in final criteria) now recognise reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods may be achieved in multiple ways, including direct action on reduction (e.g., waste reduction, better utilisation, changes to business focus) or through protein diversification (e.g., new product development, reformulation).

The number of points to be awarded for evidence related to protein diversification in the 2022 benchmark is set out in Appendix III in the summary report. The scoring of evidence related to protein diversification may be revised following a review of the BBFAW 2022 data, BBFAW said.

“Another change in response to feedback on the proposals is that the question “Does the company report on volumes of animal-sourced foods by type (meat, dairy, fish, eggs)?” (Q50 in proposals, Q49 in final criteria) has been moved to the Farm Animal Welfare Performance Impact section and changed to “Does the company report on volumes of animal-sourced foods by type (meat, dairy, fish, eggs) and/or by method of production?”

“This question is now looking for companies to provide greater transparency of the extent to which the company is reliant on animal-sourced foods and/or supporting higher welfare production,” BBFAW said.

“Volumes may be reported as numbers of animals and companies can report volumes in the context of overall volumes, i.e., to demonstrate a relative reduction in the case of a growing business.”

BBFAW will be asking companies if they acknowledge a need to reduce reliance on animal-sourced proteins and publish their policy on the issue.

In selected feedback comments published by BBFAW a UK food company said agreed with the addition of questions on reducing the reliance on animal-sourced foods, “but would have preferred to see a lower weighting than the proposed 9 percent in the first year to enable businesses to develop their monitoring and reporting systems.”

A North American food company said it was deeply concerned about BBFAW’s new direction.

“Fundamentally, this move would attempt to reduce protein production overall, which is beyond the scope of BBFAW’s mission to improve animal welfare.

“Rather than promoting the best possible production systems for welfare, it’s moving to minimize the size of the industry,” the company said.

“It seems like a fundamental change in philosophy – that animal agriculture ought to be phased out.”

Another UK food company said the BBFAW assessment is designed to measure a business against their animal welfare practices.

“Decreasing reliance on animal-sourced ingredients within our supply chain will not necessarily ensure an increased animal welfare for those animals still being farmed for food sources.

“We have concerns that the introduction of the animal-sourced foods pillar will also penalise companies that have made efforts to develop and expand their plant-based products range,” the company said.

“Under the pillar as it stands, there is no recognition for businesses who have made investments into plant-based ranges.

“The criteria only focuses on reducing animalsourced foods, which […] is incredibly challenging for businesses to change consumers’ behaviour.”

An Asia Pacific food company said the consultation document indicates that the BBFAW Partners consider reducing reliance on animal-sourced foods to be an ‘allied issue’ to that of farm animal welfare.

“However, it is unclear how reducing the proportion of foods from animal sources will directly lead to improvements welfare outcomes for the remaining farmed animals.”

Anorhter North American food company suggested that the questions should focus on increased share of alternative proteins, as opposed to reduction of animal protein.

“In general, companies are expected to keep growing, so even a relative reduction may lead to absolute growth.”

A North American investor agreed with the proposal for questions on reducing reliance on animal sourced foods “based on the reasoning provided in the consultation paper.”

Coles and Woolworths have been asked for their reaction to the report findings and whether they intended to develop and publish policies on reducing their reliance on animal-sourced proteins.

A Woolworths spokesperson said the company is aware the BBFAW consultation summary was published today.

“As we’ve stated previously, we are reviewing our use of the Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare to measure our own performance against other retailers, following a range of changes to its assessment criteria.

“We work closely with our producers to protect the welfare of animals in our supply chain, and we know they care deeply about the animals they raise and feed.”

A Coles spokesperson said Coles has never set a tier target for the Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare, but the company’s focus on high animal welfare has been recognised in BBFAW’s ranking under the previous assessment criteria.

“We will continue to use a range of measures of performance in animal welfare rather than the singular use of the Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare.

“We will continue to work with suppliers who have animal welfare standards that meet the high expectations of Coles and our customers, as part of our overall commitment to sustainable meat supply chains,” the spokesperson said.

Other requirements to achieve higher animal welfare outcomes used by Coles including RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards, sow-stall free pork and cage-free eggs.


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