Walmart looks at improved animal welfare practices

With many of The Page Groups clients a shift to improved animal welfare practices is taking place.  These initiatives are driven by the consumer, by healthy lifestyle practices, and by concern over illness and obesity across this country.   We applaud all of our clients and consumers who seek better ways to deliver products that fulfill a healthier and better life.   Congrats to all who support these wholesale and retail partners…

Walmart Pushes for Improved Animal Welfare

Walmart, the nation’s largest grocery retailer, said on Friday that it would ask its meat, seafood, poultry, deli and egg suppliers to adopt animal welfare standards that include sufficient space and easy access to food and water.

The company also said it would ask its suppliers to report to it annually on their use of antibiotics, and asked them to limit treatment with antibiotics to animals that are sick.

The guidelines Walmart issued are voluntary, and the company did not publicly set a deadline for its suppliers to follow its recommendations or say what would happen if a supplier failed to comply. Animal welfare groups, some of which have targeted Walmart’s supply chain in the past, generally applauded Friday’s decision, saying that the company’s market clout would probably compel much of the industry to adopt better standards.

The decision also applied to Sam’s Clubs, the warehouse club unit of Walmart.

“We have listened to our customers, and are asking our suppliers to engage in improved reporting standards and transparency measures regarding the treatment of farm animals,” Kathleen McLaughlin, the senior vice president overseeing Walmart’s sustainability program, said in a news release.

Over the last several years, dozens of companies have announced commitments to better animal welfare and to eliminating the use of human antibiotics from animal husbandry. McDonald’s won applause when it announced in March that it would begin using meat from chickens that are not raised with antibiotics important to human medicine, and a month later, one of its major chicken suppliers, Tyson Foods, said it would stop using such drugs in poultry production by 2017.

Walmart said it supported the “five freedoms” for livestock animals established by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, an advisory group established by the British government to review animal treatment. The group was dissolved in 2011.

“We feel it is a step in the right direction that sends a strong message to other companies to not reinvest in cruel confinement equipment that consumers do not support,” Nina Farley, digital advocacy manager at Compassion in World Farming, said in an email.

Gail Hansen, senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project and a former public health veterinarian for Kansas, said Walmart had gone further than any other company in moving to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry by asking its suppliers to submit annual reports.

Walmart noted that while compliance with its wishes on antibiotic use was voluntary, many of its suppliers — it pointed to Smithfield — already report their use of the drugs on their websites.

As for why the company made compliance voluntary, Kevin Gardner, a Walmart spokesman, noted that it had taken the same position in the past when prodding suppliers into more sustainable practices.

“We’ve worked with our suppliers collaboratively in a similar fashion to drive positive change across many issues over the years, such as sustainable packaging reduction or compaction of laundry detergent, which were game-changing initiatives in their time,” Mr. Gardner said.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration proposed to require drug manufacturers to disclose whether the antibiotics they sell for use in raising animals are being used for cattle, pigs, chickens or turkeys, but health advocates have long wanted even more specific data.

“Walmart is the first one asking its suppliers not only to give it data, but also to make that data public,” Dr. Hansen said. “That will show actual use, and that’s the real gold standard.”

In a statement on the company website, Ms. McLaughlin noted: “Our customers have told us that they want to know more about where their food comes from, and how it was sourced.”

Even Mercy for Animals, an animal welfare group that has publicized six undercover videos exposing disturbing conditions at pig farms it says supply Walmart and organized protests of the retailer, praised the company’s announcement.

“This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America,” the organization said in a blog post.

It asked, however, that Walmart “add greater teeth” to its announcement by requiring its suppliers to comply with the standards and give them a timetable for doing so.

Many companies and animal producers have worked with the Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights organizations and begun gradually working to phase out things like the narrow stalls in which pregnant sows are kept and what are known as battery cages, where laying hens live in a space about the size of a filing cabinet drawer.

That system may come under even greater scrutiny in the wake of the outbreak of avian flu that is currently devastating the poultry business at large egg producers in particular. If one hen in a barn housing 350,000 gets sick, 90 percent or more of her mates will be dead within 48 hours, and the federal government typically requires all the birds in barns at the same site to be euthanized.

Many animal producers are already moving to install new types of housing for their animals as older facilities are replaced, and egg operations across the country have begun installing the new, more generously sized hen-housing systems required of producers in California and anyone who wants to ship eggs there. Cargill, one of the country’s largest meat suppliers, has been moving its pigs into group housing and giving them greater access to the outdoors. Pork from pigs raised that way is in such demand that when Chipotle found one of its suppliers was not living up to its standards, it could not get supply elsewhere and thus has had a shortage of carnitas.

“Walmart’s animal welfare announcement is game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending,” Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society, said in an email. “Battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates — along with other longstanding practices that immobilize animals — have a short shelf life in our food system.”

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