Farm Animal Welfare

Animal welfare is a concern increasingly appearing on the agendas of consumers and NGOs as well as in draft regulations.

Black and white cows in a fieldBackground

Animal welfare has been one of Unilever’s core sustainable agriculture indicators since 2005. We also have several ongoing initiatives that involve animal-derived ingredients including cage-free eggs in Hellmann’s mayonnaise and the Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy programme that sources milk for our ice cream.

Our long-term ambition is to purchase all our animal-derived ingredients from sustainable sources. Taking into account the volumes purchased, we have decided to focus on cage-free eggs and our dairy supply chain within our current sustainable sourcing programme.

Our approach requires successful implementation by our supply chain partners. We plan to work on a sustainability action plan over a number of years in order to allow our suppliers to adapt to our animal welfare requirements.

Although Unilever is not a leading buyer of animal-derived ingredients, in 2010 we published a position statement to ensure a corporate approach on animal welfare for both eggs and dairy ingredients. The position statement is below.

Unilever's position

Unilever recognises that many consumers do have concerns about animal welfare and we take these concerns seriously.

Accordingly, we encourage our suppliers to participate in initiatives to define good animal welfare practices and improvement programmes in the countries and/or regions where they are sourcing, processing and marketing products from animal origin. Good animal welfare practices should address issues such as housing, hygiene, feeding and feed, health management and the management of antibiotics, water supply, mutilations, transport, slaughtering practices and traceability.

Our working method for monitoring and improving animal welfare will be based on the so-called five 'freedoms':

  1. freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition

  2. freedom from discomfort

  3. freedom from pain, injury and disease

  4. freedom to express normal behaviour

  5. freedom from fear and distress.

We will ensure that our suppliers comply with legal requirements and accepted industry standards with respect to animal welfare.

We will develop animal welfare criteria in our sustainable sourcing programme, building on our experience in the sustainable agriculture programme and taking into account the different regional perceptions and adequate supply.

Programmes for the implementation of good animal welfare practices may be based on voluntary standards agreed by the industry and/or may be developed by third-party certification organisations. Unilever will be transparent on which specific standard the animal welfare criteria of its products will be based.

Sourcing of Cage-Free Eggs

Unilever was one of the first global companies to work with egg suppliers to start providing cage-free eggs for our brands. In Western Europe, our Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé brands have been 100% cage-free since 2009. In the US, we are making significant progress in our commitment to convert 100% of our egg supply to cage-free, certified by the American Humane Association or Humane Farm Animal Care.

We are aware of the concerns raised about global egg industry standards by which breeders of egg-laying hens eliminate male chicks, following methods that are included in EU Directives and American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines. While this is a standard practice among suppliers to the broad egg farming industry and all types of egg products, and although Unilever uses only a small percentage of eggs produced in the market, we take these concerns seriously.

We are engaging with the egg production industry, the animal welfare community and R&D companies to develop alternative options for the current practices. We are committed to providing (financial) support to research and the market introduction of in-ovo gender identification (sexing) of eggs, a new technology that has the potential to eliminate the hatching and culling of male chicks in the poultry-breeding industry.

External recognition

Unilever has achieved Tier 2 ranking – scoring between 62 and 80% – in the global report of farm animal welfare management, policy commitment and disclosure in 70 food companies. Supported by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, ‘The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2013 Report’, published in December 2013, provides an objective account of the state of farm animal welfare as a business issue. Unilever’s position reflects the fact that farm animal welfare is integral to our business strategy through the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code.

Our efforts in relation to animal welfare have also been recognised with a number of wins at the European Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards, organised by Compassion in World Farming. In 2008 and 2010 Unilever won the Good Egg Award for egg sourcing in Europe. In 2012 Unilever won five awards: Unilever Dressings Europe – Good Egg Award; UNOX (Netherlands) – Good Chicken Award; and the European Leader Award. Two Unilever brands in the US – Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s – also received the Good Egg Award.