In March 2018, the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) published its sixth annual report evaluating the animal welfare practices of 110 food business operators (FBOs) comprising: food producers; wholesalers; retailers; as well as restaurants and bars. The BBFAW is a global measure of farm animal welfare management by FBOs. The benchmarking undertaken by the BBFAW includes specific assessment parameters, namely: management commitment to animal welfare; governance and management of welfare issues; leadership and innovation; and performance and reporting. The Report ranks companies in six tiers, with tier 1 assigned to the strongest performers, and tier 6 for the weakest. The core findings as well as the impact of the Report on changing animal welfare practices are considered below.

Key findings

Firstly, the findings point to a more widespread culture where animal welfare practices are becoming institutionalised within leadership and management practices. The statistical analysis provides evidence of increased performance by FBOs on animal welfare as well as a commitment to ongoing improvement. For instance, the number of companies in tiers 1 and 2 grew from 3 (out of 68) in 2012 to 17 (out of 110) in 2017. Indeed, these 17 companies cover all three of the food industry sub-sectors (i.e. food retailers and wholesalers, restaurants and bars, and food producers). The Report will be particularly well received by Domino’s Pizza Group and JD Wetherspoon who climbed three tiers and across the board, 26 companies progressed by at least one tier.

Secondly, the findings indicate that attaining a tier 1 benchmark whilst delivering consumer value is not impossible. Whilst tier 1 is indeed dominated by brands such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, there have been some notable improvements by other well-known FBO brands. For instance, Greggs, McDonalds, Tesco and Sainsbury rose up to tier 2 in the ranking.

However, the Report identifies a number of negative trends and obstacles to improving animal welfare practices. In particular, the Report identifies that several companies still provide little or no information on their approach to farm animal welfare and, while overall performance is improving, average scores in most areas remain low with 37% of FBO’s appearing in tiers 5 and 6. Specifically, widespread geographical variations remain. For example, the UK scores an average of 58% and outperforms the rest of the world in all four of the BBFAW’s reporting areas, however, Asia-Pacific as a region is ranked lowest, with an average score of just 14%.

The Report identifies specific obstacles to improving animal welfare standards such as: a lack of awareness of the commercial benefits linked to a higher benchmarking status; lack of budget and management engagement to fund process improvements; and a lack of resource and/ or technical expertise to facilitate necessary process improvements.

Insight

As succinctly noted by Steve McIvor (chief executive of World Animal Protection) “Consumers are showing that they increasingly care about the welfare of animals when they are deciding where to eat.” The food industry is clearly paying attention to the concerns and demands of more discerning consumers. Indeed, many FBOs are taking great strides towards improving farm animal welfare standards as well as investing in developing new methods to deliver enhanced supply chain accountability. For instance, Marks and Spencer has recently launched ‘we trace it, so you can trust it’; a campaign that is intended to foster greater supply chain transparency.

In addition to novel initiatives spearheaded by individual FBOs, the BBFAW has an important role to play in shaping corporate policy as well as driving improved practices relating to farm animal welfare. The BBFAW benchmarking method serves as an important ‘carrot and stick’. The ‘stick’ operates by exposing underperforming companies through publication of the rankings across six tiers. Simultaneously, there is the lucrative ‘carrot’ of obtaining a high tier status and given the close investor alignment with BBFAW, this can operate as a clear incentive for industry.

An important finding from the Report is that there is a more widespread acknowledgement and awareness by executive leadership as to the commercial and reputational risks associated with poor animal welfare practices. As a result there is an emerging imperative to codify policies and procedures to improve current approaches towards farm animal welfare. In this regard, it is suggested that the use of benchmarking can serve as an important tool to build a consensus for FBO’s to commit to changing culture and practices on farm animal welfare.