The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) this week issued its annual report on how food companies around the world are addressing food animal issues. If you’re wondering if the food system is paying attention, the foreword in the fourth-annual report is authored by Donnie Smith, president and CEO at Tyson Foods.
Ninety of the world’s leading food firms, including 23 from the U.S., were graded on everything from management to transparency and grouped into six tiers based on their scores. There were no U.S. companies in the top tier. McDonald’s and Unilever (Hellman’s, Ben and Jerry’s) made the second-highest group. In its coverage of the report, UK-based Farmers Weekly reports six of the top 11 companies are British. The complete rankings are offered in infographic form here.
In an article at TakePart.com, food writer Willy Blackmore notes, “The report is not aimed at consumers or activists, but rather is designed for investors and the industry itself.”
Among the three organizations supporting the annual report is global private equity firm Coller Capital. Its founder, Jeremy Coller, is on a mission to “end factory farming within the next 40 years.” Says Coller, “Like the businesses they back, investors have an obligation to nurture the world they live in. Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, policies are rapidly becoming a vital part of investors’ toolkits. ESG is the investment community’s equivalent to corporate social responsibility… A very important part of this is animal welfare.”
In the foreword of the BBFAW report, Tyson’s Smith says, “As farm animal welfare moves up the business agenda and companies invest more resources in it, those who are serious about improvement need to ask themselves three questions: Are we curious — open-minded enough — to find better ways? Can we accept that we may not have all the answers ourselves? Are we telling our story openly, honestly and understandably?”
Most people have no problem consuming food from animals but they want to know they’re being treated right. However, too many consumers have doubts that animals on today’s farms are handled with care.
In CFI’s consumer trust research, more than half the respondents in a nationwide survey of 2,000 people strongly agreed with the statement, “If farm animals are treated decently and humanely, I have no problem consuming meat, milk and eggs.” Problem is, only one in four strongly agreed that, “U.S. meat is derived from humanely treated animals.”
Today’s food producers need to embrace this skepticism and ramp up engagement and communication to show consumers that today’s farmers are committed to doing the right thing when it comes to animal well-being. CFI’s latest study proves that improved transparency increases consumer trust.
The study focused on six areas important to consumers — Treatment of Animals Raised for Food among them. Survey respondents said they hold food companies most responsible for demonstrating transparency on animal welfare. They said they want results of third-party audits on animal care shared on company websites. They also want the opportunity to ask questions via company websites and answers provided in easy-to-understand language.
Consumers inherently trust farmers because they believe they share their values. Unfortunately, consumers aren’t sure today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming. Generational and geographic distance between farmers and consumers, technological advances in farming, and changes in farm size and structure have consumers questioning where their food comes from and how it is produced.
As we increase both the distance most consumers have from food production and the level of technology used, the food system must dramatically improve its ability and commitment to build trust. Everyone in the food system needs to embrace consumer skepticism and increase their commitment to transparency. People need to take up the cause within their organizations and become champions for greater transparency, realizing it will ultimately enhance consumer trust.