The Business of Farm Animal Welfare

Globally, nearly 70 billion animals are farmed annually for meat, milk, eggs and other products. Some two-thirds of these animals are farmed intensively. Nicky Amos and Rory Sullivan examine the the management practices companies adopt to care for the animals responsibly in this article. 

Globally, nearly 70 billion animals are farmed annually for meat, milk, eggs and other products. Some two-thirds of these animals are farmed intensively. Intensive animal production systems are responsible for significant and widespread negative impacts on animal welfare. Practices such as the selection and manipulation of animals for rapid growth, and the use of confinement mechanisms, such as cages and crates, which severely restrict animal movement and behaviour, are pushing animals to their physical and mental limits. Moreover, these practices are starting to have a detrimental effect on the business case for intensive animal production, with many consumers unwilling to accept food that embodies poor welfare, and its association with poor quality.

Company attention to farm animal welfare is being driven by a variety of factors including tightening farm animal welfare-related regulation (in particular within the European Union), growing consumer and, more recently, investor concern about animal welfare issues, high profile media stories (such as the 2013 European horsemeat scandal), the costs of product recalls, concerns about the human health effects of antibiotic use in food supply chains, and the damage to company brands and reputation as a result of allegations about poor farm animal welfare practices.

There are also many opportunities for those companies that take a proactive approach to farm animal welfare. These include the potential to improve efficiency, margins and profits through reduced wastage, to access new markets and customers, to produce higher quality products, and to grow existing markets as a result of adopting higher welfare standards ahead of competitors. To take just one example, many retailers have made commitments to offer higher welfare products, such as cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free meat, creating market opportunities for producers that are able to meet or exceed these demands.

Despite the business, ethical and societal arguments for companies to pay attention to farm animal welfare, relatively little is known about how food companies, either individually or as a sector, manage farm animal welfare. For example, how do food companies define their responsibilities for the animals in their care or in their supply chains? What practices do food companies adopt to ensure the welfare of animals in their care or in their supply chains? What is the business case for action, and what are the implications of farm animal welfare for capital expenditure, operating costs, profit margins, revenues, assets, brand or reputation? How large are the opportunities for companies that adopt higher standards of farm animal welfare?

These questions need to be analysed and interpreted in the context of the changing world within which food businesses operate. Food companies need to think about the implications of, for example: public and media scrutiny of corporate practices and activities in an increasingly transparent world; the pressure to keep prices low while ensuring that workers operate safely and are paid decent wages; competition for market share; the potential impact of technology and innovation; alternatives to animal proteins (protein diversification); changes to lifestyles and dietary preferences; the changing expectations of customers and consumers, and the extent to which these influence purchasing practices and behaviours.

The Business of Farm Animal Welfare provides a detailed account of current corporate practice on farm animal welfare in the context of these strategic and structural challenges. It explains why animal welfare cannot be dismissed as a niche ethical concern. Through a series of practitioner case-studies, the book describes how food retailers, food producers and restaurants are addressing farm animal welfare in their operations and supply chains and the practical challenges that they encounter. It provides a critical analysis of the drivers for action and critically evaluates the nature and shape of the business case, the key barriers to progress, and the innovative ways in which companies are adapting business models to effectively manage risks and opportunities associated with farm animal welfare.

The book provides a series of practical proposals on how the business case for action can be realised, and of how the goals of improved standards of farm animal welfare can be aligned with improved business sustainability and long-term financial performance. It suggests that the key relationships are those between companies and their suppliers. This is partly about the economic power and influence of companies, and their ability to demand that suppliers meet their demands. However, it is much more about the contribution they can make together (e.g. through companies adapting their contractual and other conditions to incentivise higher welfare, through suppliers bringing new ideas and market opportunities to their clients) to create a food system that delivers much better outcomes for the animals being farmed for food.

Nicky Amos and Dr Rory Sullivan are the editors of the new book The Business of Farm Animal Welfare and the architects of the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, which is now the globally recognised investor framework for assessing the quality of companies’ practices, processes and performance on farm animal welfare. For further information on the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW). 

Nicky Amos is a recognised authority on corporate responsibility with extensive experience in managing and directing corporate responsibility strategies in global organisations. She advises multinational companies and leading non-governmental organisations on the development and implementation of sustainable development strategies and measurement frameworks, materiality assessments, stakeholder dialogue and disclosure practices.

Dr Rory Sullivan is an internationally recognised expert on responsible investment. He is the author/editor of eight books including Valuing Corporate Responsibility: How Do Investors Really Use Corporate Responsibility Information? (Greenleaf Publishing, 2011), and Corporate Responses to Climate Change (editor, Greenleaf Publishing, 2008). He is also the General Editor of the Greenleaf Responsible Investment book series.