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Farm animal welfare

From eggs in our mayonnaise and dairy products in many of our ice creams to small amounts of meat by-product in some of our bouillons and soups, a number of our products include ingredients that come from farm animals.

Our use of ingredients from farm animals

Farm animal welfare has been a core sustainable agriculture indicator for Unilever for many years. It’s also part of our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) (PDF 7.88 MB), which we launched in 2010. You can find out more about our policies, targets, and the processes in place to ensure that the policies are effectively implemented, on our website, and in our Unilever Sustainable Livestock Implementation Guide (PDF 1.39 MB).

Our commitments on animal welfare are founded on the principle that farm animals are sentient beings (i.e. they have the capacity to experience positive and negative emotions such as pleasure, joy, pain and distress).

Based on the volumes we purchase, our major focus has been on sourcing cage-free eggs and on our dairy supply chain. We’ve made significant progress on both, in partnership with our suppliers.

Ending the use of close confinement

As our two highest volume protein commodities, eggs and dairy are the most important animal protein products for us:

Eggs: In Europe, all our brands including Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have used 100% cage-free eggs since 2009. We achieved a similar transition in North America, reaching 100% cage-free at the end of 2020. We are also committed to extend our cage-free egg commitment to the rest of the world by the end of 2025. We’re making progress, but there’s still further to go on this final commitment. By the end of 2022, 72% of our global egg supply was cage-free. We will continue to report progress annually on our website and have published detailed roadmaps for all relevant regions.

Dairy: Our aim is to protect cattle from physical discomfort, enable natural behaviour and encourage suppliers to allow cows to graze outside if feasible. All farmers in our Caring Dairy program in Europe need to graze their dairy cows. They can receive additional payments if they graze youngstock and cows live longer. As part of the program, tethering of dairy cows and young stock is also banned.

In addition, animal welfare is part of our sustainable sourcing strategy for dairy. By ‘sustainable sources’, we mean suppliers who comply with the requirements of our updated Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) or an equivalent standard, where Animal Welfare is one of the chapters. Find out more on our approach on our Sustainable and regenerative sourcing page.

Our SAC specifically requires producers to work with veterinary experts to develop health plans to ensure cattle are monitored to prevent or treat any illness and disease. By the end of 2022, 74% of our dairy ingredients came from sustainable sources. This has improved from 64% in 2021 due to our US suppliers being once again compliant with the Unilever Sustainable Agricultural Code. Our focus in the coming years is to achieve more sustainable sourced volumes in India and Turkey.

Broilers: We also have targets for raising broiler chicken welfare standards, including requirements for stocking density:

  • North America: By 2024, for 100% of the chicken used for Knorr and Lipton soups in North America, we will reduce stocking density to a maximum of 6 lbs/sq foot and prohibit broiler cages.
  • Europe: By 2024, for 100% of the chicken meat used for Knorr and Unox, we will reduce stocking density to 30 kg/m2 and prohibit cages or multi-tier systems.

The provision of effective, species-specific enrichment

Our SAC (which is applicable to all suppliers) states that the environment in which animals are kept must enable natural behaviour. This includes factors such as ensuring animals are kept in appropriate groups, light levels are suitable, and animals have suitable environmental enrichment.

We also have specific targets for raising broiler chicken welfare standards and providing enrichment:

  • North America: By 2024, for 100% of the chicken used for Knorr and Lipton soups in North America, we will provide birds with enriched environments including (natural), lighting and enrichment that meets GAP’s new standards (PDF 11.88 MB).
  • Europe: By 2026, for 100% of the chicken meat used for Knorr and Unox, we will provide enrichment that meets standards for natural light (At least 50 lux light, including natural light), perches and pecking substrates (at least two metres of usable perch space, and two pecking substrates per 1,000 birds).

All the Ben & Jerry’s dairy farms in the US are GAP (Global Animal Partnership) certified and in the Ben & Jerry’s EU program farmers need to comply with additional requirements for housing systems (e.g. mandatory cow brushes and participation in an animal welfare monitoring system called Cow Compass).

Ending the use of routine mutilations

Our SAC states that mutilations must be minimised as far as possible. Where they are deemed necessary such interventions must be carried out by competent, trained personnel and with appropriate use of anaesthetics and analgesics. We also have some species specific requirements in our Unilever Sustainable Livestock Implementation Guide:

Dairy: 100% of Unilever’s global dairy population is free of tail docking. In 2016, we banned tail docking – the removal of part of a cow’s tail - in the Caring Dairy Program in the US a year before it became a legal requirement. It is also an illegal practice in Europe and Unilever continues to lend support to the Sustainable Dairy Partnership, where tail docking is also banned.

Pork: Tail docking and teeth clipping should not be carried out routinely, only being carried out where there is evidence on the farm that injuries to pigs have occurred (e.g. injuries to sows teats, ear/tail biting) or are likely to occur as a result of not tail docking or tooth clipping. Where deemed necessary such surgical procedures must be kept to a minimum and only be performed by competent, trained personnel. If castration is deemed necessary; it should ideally take place within 72 hours of birth and an anaesthetic and prolonged pain relief should be administered.

Other tasks such as boar tusk removal, should only be carried out when not doing so would cause injury or distress.

Poultry: It should not be necessary to use any mutilations for growing broilers. In all egg production systems there are on-going challenges with feather pecking and cannibalism during the rearing and laying phases. Best practice is considered as not beak trimming. If beak trimming is deemed necessary, and recommended by a veterinary surgeon, then it should ideally be performed at one day old using an infra-red system.

Long-distance live transport of farm animals

Our SAC (which is applicable to all suppliers) states that journey times must comply with local regulations, and the equipment on board the vehicle must be suitable for the journey time. In the absence of any local legislation, the EU legislation detailed in the Implementation Guide must be adhered to.

We have also developed our Livestock Transport & Slaughter Implementation Guide (PDF 1.02 MB) to provide advice and information for farmers, hauliers and abattoirs on livestock transportation (i.e. farm to farm or farm to slaughter) for animals in our supply chain. This includes the following species specific requirements:

Beef and Pork: EU legislation states that animals are not transported for more than 8 hours, unless additional requirements for vehicles carrying out long journeys are met.

Poultry: Regulation within the European Union states that: birds must not be without feed for any longer than 12 hours prior to being slaughtered, consequently this effectively limits the journey time to a proportion of this limit. It is considered good practice to limit the journey time to 4 hours, as the percentage of birds found dead on arrival at the slaughterhouse increases after 4 hours and more rapidly after 6 hours.

Use of humane methods of pre-slaughter stunning

Our SAC states that wherever possible, stunning must be carried out before slaughter. If for religious reasons this is not possible, then recommendations in the implementation guide for the reduction of pain and distress must be followed. We respect the preference of our Muslim consumers for products meeting Halal requirements. However, from an animal welfare perspective, Unilever requires stunning to be carried out prior to slaughter, whenever this is permitted under local regulations. This applies to all species and geographies.

We have developed our Livestock Transport & Slaughter Implementation Guide (PDF 1.02 MB) to provide advice and information for farmers, hauliers and abattoirs on slaughter for animals in our supply chain.

We also have some specific targets for raising broiler chicken welfare standards:

By 2024, for 100% of the chicken used for Knorr and Lipton soups in North America, we will: process chickens in a manner that avoids pre-stun handling and instead uses a multi-step controlled atmosphere processing system that induces an irreversible stun. And in Europe, by 2026 for 100% of the chicken meat used for Knorr and Unox, we will adopt controlled atmospheric stunning using inert gas or multi-phase systems, or effective electrical stunning without live inversion.

Producing and selling foie gras

Unilever does not source ducks or geese and does not produce or sell foie gras.

Product breyers transparent background

Breyers®

Our other brands such as Breyers® are also pushing for change. Breyers® in the US also committed to only sourcing milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. Since 2020, we have not used any dairy products from cows treated with artificial growth hormones in any of our ice cream brands in the US.

Banning artificial growth hormones

The artificial growth hormone rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also known as rBST) is illegal in Europe and a number of other countries. In the US, however, it is still used in milk production. Ben & Jerry’s has openly opposed it’s use since 1989 and, as part of the Caring Dairy Program, our farmers have pledged not to use it.

Read more about Unilever’s position on the use of growth promoting substances in farm animals.

How we source our meat by-product

Our volumes of meat-derived ingredients are small and decreasing as our portfolio evolves towards more plant-based offerings. You can find out more about our policies, targets, and the processes in place to ensure that the policies are effectively implemented, on our website, and we’ve embedded plant-based thinking into our Future Foods commitments.

We use a very small part of the animal to make our stocks and bouillons, as opposed to buying whole cuts. For the meat by-product we do source, we believe in good quality ingredients which are responsibly sourced. Our approach to sourcing by-product is to focus on where we can have the biggest positive impact, and to work with partners to achieve scale in our actions.

Knorr jar

Knorr

Knorr is responsible for around 80% of the chicken volume we use. As such, the brand co-developed its own animal welfare standards in collaboration with NGO, Compassion in World Farming.

Halal products

Our guidelines on Halal products (PDF 269KB) include our commitment to offer Halal products based on market demands. We respect the preference of our Muslim consumers for products meeting Halal requirements. However, from an animal welfare perspective, Unilever requires stunning to be carried out prior to slaughter, whenever this is permitted under local regulations. This applies to all species and geographies.

Use of antibiotics in farm animals

Our SAC states that hormones and antibiotics must be used prudently with the aim of optimising therapeutic efficacy and minimising the development of antibiotic resistance. Products or equivalent products (e.g. fluoro quinolones) that can be used to treat human disease must not be used unless deemed necessary by a vet.

We further outline our position in our Position on the use of antibiotics in farm animals (PDF 90.26 KB):

We can play a role in ensuring antibiotics are used responsibly by working with our suppliers in preventing antibiotic resistance at the global level. Unilever believes that antibiotics in farm animals must be used prudently with the aim of optimising therapeutic efficacy and minimising the development of antibiotic resistance. We therefore encourage our suppliers to:

  1. Restrict use of the Highest Priority Critically Important antibiotics for human medicine as defined by the WHO1 unless used under the direction of a veterinary surgeon as a treatment of last resort and following diagnostic testing
  2. Phase out routine prophylactic use of antibiotics (routine use for the prevention of disease) and the use of antibiotics as growth promoters
  3. Develop a written health plan in consultation with a veterinary surgeon that includes disease risks, treatment protocols and preventative measures specific to the farm, which should contribute to reducing antibiotic use
  4. Record medicine usage to allow the monitoring of trends in antibiotic usage over time.

How we’re working with industry partners

We’re one of the founding members of The Global Coalition for Animal Welfare. We work together with others to accelerate the transition to higher welfare systems. We are doing this in order to generate a greater supply of higher welfare meat products in the supply chain.

Unilever was also one of the founders of the SAI Platform back in 2002, with the view to share knowledge and best practices to tackle some of the common challenges facing the agriculture sector. 20 years on, we are still active members. The SAI Platform not only facilitates cross-industry information sharing, it also provides solutions and tools to some of the most credible organisations pushing the sustainable agriculture agenda forward, such as The Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP), the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS) and the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA).

In 2022 Ben & Jerry’s launched a project via Unilever’s Climate & Nature Fund which principally aims to reduce the emissions of GHG in the dairy supply chains. Part of the holistic approach the project is taking is focused on ensuring a high level of animal welfare. For example, in Europe there will be strong focus on extended grazing for dairy cows and young stock, better housing conditions for cows and calves, cow brushes and improving longevity of dairy cows. In the US the focus will be on certifying all farms using the Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) certification, promoting grazing for dry cows and youngstock and increasing longevity.

Animal welfare targets

Cage free eggs: In Europe, all our brands including Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have used 100% cage-free eggs since 2009. We then worked on a similar transition in North America, achieving 100% cage-free at the end of 2020. We then committed to extend our cage-free egg commitment to the rest of the world by the end of 2025.

Better Chicken Commitment: By 2024, 100% of the chicken we use for Knorr and Lipton soups in North America will meet the requirements on the Better Chicken Commitment. By 2026, 100% of the chicken meat used for Knorr and Unox will meet the requirements of the European Chicken Commitment.

Dairy Cows: Both B&J US and EU have banned the tethering of dairy cows in their Caring Dairy programs. In other sourcing regions (e.g. India) we actively promote housing systems that will replace tethering systems.

Our SAC recommends that farmers should develop and monitor animal welfare KPIs appropriate for their farming system and species held, e.g. % mortality, growth rate, lameness, mastitis etc. Monitoring results should be analysed to highlight issues and guide any necessary remedial action.

Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy program has developed the Cow Compass to monitor animal health and welfare outcomes (based upon the EU welfare quality® program). Cow Compass has now been implemented with all Ben & Jerry’s Dutch, UK, Belgium, and German dairy suppliers. The Cow Compass goes beyond legal and sectoral requirements.

As part of our commitment to be more transparent about our animal welfare progress, we publicly report our purchase of ingredients from higher animal welfare systems (DOCX 46.97 KB). This demonstrates the progress we’ve made in key animal welfare areas.

Farm animal welfare governance and management at Unilever

The Board has overall accountability for the management and guidance of risks and opportunities, including those associated with animal welfare. Our CEO and Executive Board member, Hein Schumacher, is ultimately responsible for oversight of our sustainability agenda and for delivery of the Unilever sustainability goals, supported by individual Unilever Leadership Executive members and guided by the Board. Day-to-day management of our animal welfare programme is the responsibility of our Global Responsible Sourcing Manager.

We will only achieve our commitments on animal welfare if our people really understand the issues involved. So we run regular training sessions for all relevant employees, from those involved in the buying of raw materials to those involved in marketing products to consumers. Our training covers issues like animal welfare science, animal production systems and the importance of these issues to Unilever and our consumers. For those who deal directly with our suppliers, we provide in-depth, species-specific training so they are able to better engage with suppliers to drive change.

The implementation of our Sustainable Agricultural Code is audited by a 3rd party, this means that if a supplier and their farmers cannot comply with the animal welfare requirements of our SAC they will be delisted as sustainable supplier. In our ambition to reach 100% sustainable sourcing we need improve the situation with the supplier or find alternatives. We provide consultancy for our suppliers to improve animal welfare and comply with our Sustainable Agricultural Code if needed.

Customer communications on animal welfare

Many of our brands communicate their animal welfare commitments to our customers.

For example Ben & Jerry’s website describes the importance of our higher welfare dairy farming in our Caring Dairy programme. Hellmann’s website also describes to customers how we reached our goal of using 100% cage free eggs three years earlier than our target in the USA. Many local brands and websites (e.g. Knorr UK) also actively communicate upon improvements and certifications of animal welfare. Our largest meat brand (Unox) is using Beter Leven certified meat for all their meat products and at the same time they have the ambition to grow plant based sales.

External recognition

We were identified as a Tier 2 company in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2021 which was published in April 2022. This means we have made farm animal welfare an integral part of our business strategy, but there are still improvements to be made through our engagement with our suppliers. The report is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals).

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