Consumers, politicians and many companies are taking the issue seriously – so why are foodservice firms lagging?
There has been a “striking change” in the manner in which food companies talk about farm animal welfare, according to the latest Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare. “Increasingly, companies describe farm animal welfare in terms of the opportunities – financial and reputational – that can be delivered,” BBFAW concluded. But this shift seems to have passed contract caterers by.
Foodservice scored an average of 27%, well below the average of 34% across all companies assessed (which also included retailers, manufacturers and producers). The sector’s score was dragged down by the business- to-business firms that have less proximity to the public or that trade under multiple service brands. Those companies “scored significantly worse”, explained the BBFAW programme director Nicky Amos in an email to Footprint. In fact, the average score for Compass Group, Cremonini, Elior, Gategroup Holding, Olav Thon Gruppen, SSP Group and Umoe Gruppen was “approximately half that of the other sectors covered by the benchmark”.
The annual benchmark scores companies on their approach to managing farm animal welfare in four areas: management commitment and policy; governance and policy implementation; leadership and innovation; and performance reporting and impact. They are then separated into one of six tiers depending on how they performed – from the “leadership” group in tier 1 down to tier 6 consisting of firms that show no evidence that animal welfare is on their business agenda.
Elior and Compass both dropped down a tier in the latest rankings (see table). Compass maintained that the group remained committed to making progress and pointed to its recent commitment to source 100% cage-free eggs by 2025. A spokeswoman also noted that it is “well ahead” of the sector’s average score – however, it’s a pretty low bar that has been set, with 27% at the very bottom of tier 4 in the BBFAW’s system. Elior said its ranking was purely down to the level of information made available on its website. “We’ve been assured by the BBFAW that had we published on the website all the information we supplied to them directly we would have ranked much higher.”
So does lack of disclosure alone explain the poor performances? Yes and no, said Amos. For instance, 71% of the foodservice companies have published animal welfare policies, compared to 66% of food retailers. But very few have published clear commitments on key welfare issues, such as the avoidance of genetically modified or cloned animals, the avoidance of growth-promoting hormones or restrictions on antibiotics used prophylactically.
“Foodservice companies also score lower than the other two sectors on publishing objectives and targets related to farm animal welfare,” Amos explained. “57% of food service companies have published objectives and targets compared to 67% of food producers and 69% of retailers.”
And there’s more. Foodservice companies also score lower in all four areas of leadership and innovation: investment in research and development; involvement in industry initiatives to advance farm animal welfare; receiving awards from notable animal welfare organisations; and promoting higher farm animal welfare to consumers through marketing and communications.
While there are currently no leaders (tier 1) among the sector, there have been notable improvements from some of the better-known and publicly visible high-street brands. Greggs and McDonald’s are both in tier 2, which highlights how the issue is “not the preserve of niche ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ producers, nor is it limited to premium brands and food companies appealing to more affluent consumers”, according to BBFAW.
Greggs, which climbed a rung, has provided training for staff and made
it clear that no cloned or GM livestock can be supplied to the chain. The McDonald’s vice-president for sustainability wrote the foreword for this year’s benchmark. “With rising public awareness of the way animals are raised for food, animal health and welfare is an increasingly important area for businesses today – particularly for consumer-facing brands such as McDonald’s,” Keith Kenny noted.
But those away from the public eye should also take note. In a survey of 1,500 UK consumers by Mintel in 2015, 74% said meat from animals that are looked after well is among the top issues that make a food company ethical, followed by a company that guarantees the ingredients used in its products are responsibly sourced (60%) and a company that guarantees good worker welfare (57%).
Interest is likely to be even higher today with consumers concerned about standards once the UK leaves the European Union and about the standards followed by countries the UK is looking to do trade deals with. A poll in January by the RSPCA revealed that eight in 10 Brits want animal welfare laws improved or at least kept the same following Brexit. “This is a vital opportunity for the government to improve animal welfare as it stands now in this country,” said the charity’s assistant director for external affairs, David Bowles.
Brexit is also a chance to create new legislation, Bowles added. The introduction of standards and legislation for the welfare of ducks, dairy and beef cattle, for example, none of which currently have “specific standards in place to protect them”. The farming minister George Eustice also said recently that the government was “seriously considering” the introduction of financial incentives to encourage farmers to adopt higher animal welfare standards, such as free-range and pasture-based grazing systems. Politicians, consumers and some high-street foodservice brands are all serious about animal welfare, so when will caterers join the club?
The BBFAW report is available in full here.