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Food industry guilty of paying lip service to farm animal welfare

20 February 2017

Research by Dr John Lever, from the University of Huddersfield, looked at the extent to which farm animal welfare is part of the corporate social responsibility strategies of large food companies. His findings reveal that big firms have little understanding of why they engage with farm animal welfare.  

Dr Lever, from the University of Huddersfield looked at the extent to which farm animal welfare is part of the corporate social responsibility strategies of large food companies. and they fail to make connections with broader issues of sustainability.

By failing to fully understand and embrace the principles of farm animal welfare, the research document argues that big supermarket chains could be causing environmental damage and imperilling the long-term viability of their businesses. “There is mounting evidence that improvements in farm animal welfare can be linked to the three pillars of sustainable development – environment, society and economy,” said Dr Lever.

Intensive animal agriculture has a major impact on climate change, being responsible for the emission of more greenhouse gases than global transport. Also, it is in direct competition with humans for water, food, space and other scarce resources, and it can cause water pollution and damage ecosystems. A large pig farm can create as much faecal waste as a small city.

“Keeping animals under less intensive conditions, with better welfare, can clearly have an impact in these areas by reducing stress, pollution and environmental damage,” wrote Dr Lever, adding that “the poor treatment of animals can impact human health through the spread of pathogens.” Increasing numbers of consumers also view animal welfare as an important issue in its own right, but “it seems clear that many companies use farm animal welfare simply to communicate brand awareness through differentiated product ranges. By damaging the environment and undermining social and economic development, supermarkets and corporate retailers are hindering their own ability and capacity to produce and sell food in the future”.

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