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Mandy Lucas is the Founder of Farm Animal Welfare Consulting Ltd, a business that champions animal welfare across food and textile production systems. As a farmer’s daughter, and working in agricultural services throughout her life, she has kept in contact with farmers, visiting farms on every continent asking What, How and Why. She works with brands, to establish their animal welfare sourcing policies and to broker impactful conversations throughout their supply chains, which results in effective implementation and continuous improvement.
One business success:
- In August 2020, I started to support an international brand to articulate their commitment to animal welfare, by publishing an animal welfare policy and implementation report. I got a real sense of pride when I saw “Animal Welfare” listed on their website footer for the first time. Our achievement was reflected in their 2020 Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) ranking, which saw them move to Tier 4 described as "Making progress on implementation". We are confident that Tier 3 is achievable for 2021. Approximately 60 staff have now received training, introducing them to the concepts of animal welfare and why it matters to their brand. Animal welfare is now considered in every New Product Development (NPD) or procurement decision, which is a massive step forward.
Two challenges for the sector
- A good life: animal welfare has moved on since Ruth Harrison’s book Animal Machines (1964) and the Brambell Report (1965). The concept of the Five Freedoms, which focused on doing less harm, is rightly being replaced by providing animals under our care with a life worth living and preferably a good life. Even with this change of emphasis, animal welfare remains a balancing act. Whether animals should be farmed at all falls under the topic of animal ethics, not animal welfare. Once you have decided to farm animals, then providing them with the best life possible relies on farmers and animal welfare scientists collaborating. With reliable science to create and improve assessment tools which demonstrate animal welfare outcomes, farmers can feel confident in innovating and investing to improve their production systems. Sustainable improvements in animal welfare are more likely to be delivered if they originate from farmers driving the change. Maybe it is time to incentivise or reward farmers for improving animal welfare outcomes, irrespective of how this is achieved, rather than dictating “the how” without fully understanding “the why”.
- Single issue animal welfare campaigns: brands are often driven to act by consumer pressure, which is generated through campaigns run by animal welfare groups. An animal welfare group will understandably always prioritise animal welfare, but at what cost to the sustainability of our food production system? The “all or nothing approach” may result in a lower overall impact. The current criticism that retailers are not committing to the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) is a good example. Most retailers offer ranges which are compliant with or exceed, BCC requirements, which in turn improves the lives of millions of birds. Surely this is better than ten brands committing to be 100% compliant by 2026? Yet, retailers are criticised for falling behind and not committing to a concept. Retailers are customer-led; if consumers empty the higher welfare shelves, then more will follow. Wouldn’t it be better to congratulate this approach?
Three forecasts for the sector
- New legislation: the EU Commission adopted the Farm to Fork Strategy in May 2020. This plan outlines the need for actions on animal welfare, in the context of more sustainable agriculture. As a direct outcome of this strategy is the launch of an evaluation of the EU legislation on the welfare of farmed animals, called “Fitness Check”. This Fitness Check aims to help the Commission to assess the relevance of its current legislative framework composed of five EU Directives and two EU Regulations, covering animal welfare on farms, during transport and at killing. The Fitness Check is due to be completed by the end of 2021 and the results of the Fitness Check will be used to review animal welfare legislation. It is unlikely that any updates will occur until this Fitness Check is complete. Meanwhile the European Parliament has called for the end of caged farming within the next six years. MEPs voted overwhelmingly on a ban on the use of cages in animal agriculture by 2027. Member states are also setting their own legislation and timelines, with France and Germany announcing legislation banning the culling of male chicks from the laying hen industry and Germany introducing legislation on farrowing crates ahead of any EU ban. Where will the United Kingdom sit; will it wait and follow the EU or will try to get a head start? The consultation on “Improvements to animal welfare in transport” closed in February 2021 and The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is currently awaiting its third reading in the House of Lords. One thing is certain, implementing new or revised legislation will affect all areas of livestock production over the next five years.
- Animal welfare policies: Most brand-level animal welfare policies will be found on the corporate websites of food retailers, foodservice, restaurants, pubs and hotel chains. Fashion retailers and textile brands are the next likely to have made a start. But animal-based products are entwined throughout our lives, often in less obvious places such as cars (leather trim and upholstery), furniture (feather, wool or horse hair in beds or upholstered goods), health foods (gelatine in capsule shells) and sports supplements (whey, eggs and bovine colostrum in protein shakes and bars). There are very few businesses that do not have an impact on the lives of animals even if it is only in the choice they make about their fleet or the soft furnishings used in the store. Consumers and investors will continue to demand increased visibility of sourcing policies for animal-derived products and materials used throughout a company.
- Imports: Trade Agreements present new opportunities and new challenges. Understanding the detail of animal welfare legislation and enforcement across agriculture is a crucial first step. Exploring differences in production systems will be crucial in deciphering the detail needed to understand how to level the playing field and where to draw the red lines. Getting the right people around the table will be key.