Their lives in foodservice’s hands: foodservice must take action to raise standards, concludes Footprint Forum on animal welfare

Customers want it, but government will take too long to set standards, so foodservice must take action and use its clout to make higher animal welfare the norm. Amy Fetzer reports

The key takeaway form Tuesday’s Footprint Forum: The Future of Farm Animal Welfare, in association with McDonald’s, was that investing in higher welfare strengthens business because customers want it.

Connor McVeigh, supply chain director, McDonald’s, even credited taking a stand on issues that customers care about, such as animal welfare, as being a key component in turning the fast food giant’s fortunes around.

Speakers and panelist including McVeigh, Daniel Nowland, head of technical, Jamie’s Italian, Joe Bailey, head of agriculture, RSPCA Assured, Clare Hill, agriculture strategy manager, FAI, Dr Tracey Jones, director of food business at Compassion in World Farming, and Mark Driscoll, head of food, Forum For The Future shared examples and evidence from across industry of how taking a lead on animal welfare made good business sense by answering this clear customers need.

The power of leaders to transform industry was also stressed, with Dr Jones giving the example of how McDonald’s decision to move to cage free eggs had been helped create a groundswell of change that led to over 200 other US operators making the same commitment. “With that size and scale of business [such as McDonald’s],” noted McVeigh, “comes enormous responsibility as well as fantastic opportunity to identify those best practices that exit across the farming industry and to use our scale and influence to make a difference. It is about doing the right thing – it is right for our farmers, it makes really good business sense and it’s increasingly what our customer are asking for at McDonald’s, and further afield.”

The importance of foodservice taking the lead on this came from speaker Lord Teverson, who gave his view from the Brexit coal face with the stark but unsurprising message that government is too tied up in the mire of Brexit negotiations to expect any direction on animal welfare in the short term. This means industry must commit to higher welfare standards to drive the agenda internally, whilst also lobby Michael Gove to keep it current in government.

The speakers and panelists also noted the importance of taking holistic, sustainable nutrition framework that incorporates both animal welfare considerations as well as environmental impacts of meat production is the only way to tackle the issue effectively.

Driscoll also noted how technology is changing the animal welfare landscape, from tech like block-chain allowing competitors to share previously confidential information on traceability on suppliers, to the need to keep up to date on genome tech that could lead to influx of cloned meat.

Hill also noted the importance of working with the supply chain to find solutions to improve welfare standards.

The message that came through loud and clear was that, in the words of Daniel Nowland, “investing in higher welfare may be hard, but it is worth it.”

If you missed Tuesday’s Footprint Forum on The Future of Farm Animal Welfare, the report and film of the day will be available on Footprint shortly.

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