Farm animal welfare
We’re proud of our progress
From eggs in our mayonnaise and dairy products in many of our ice creams to small amounts of meat in some of our bouillons and soups, a number of our products include ingredients that come 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 7.88MB) (Opens in a new window), which we launched in 2010 and updated in 2017.
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 in partnerships with suppliers.
Sourcing cage-free eggs
We were one of the first global companies to work with egg suppliers to start providing cage-free eggs for our products.
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 by the end of 2020.
We also committed to extending this throughout the rest of the world by the end of 2025. We’re making significant progress. By the end of 2020, 68% of our global egg supply was cage-free. We will continue to report progress annually on this website.
We’re aware of concerns about breeders of egg-laying hens eliminating male chicks, following methods that are included in EU Directives and American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines. While this is standard practice in egg production – and although we use only a small percentage of eggs produced in the market – we take these concerns seriously. We’re closely following the development of alternative options to current practice. We’ve also committed to supporting the market introduction of these technologies once they are available to our suppliers.
Caring for dairy cows
We set an ambitious goal: to purchase 100% of our dairy ingredients from sustainable sources by the end of 2020. And by the end of 2020, 79% of our dairy ingredients came from sustainable sources.
By ‘sustainable sources’, we mean suppliers who comply with the requirements of our updated Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) or an equivalent standard. Animal Welfare is one of the chapters in this Code. You can find out more on our Sustainable Dairy page.
Our SAC requires producers to work with veterinary experts to develop health plans to ensure cattle are monitored to prevent or treat any illness and disease. Our aim is to protect cattle from physical discomfort, enable natural behaviour and encourage suppliers to allow cows to graze outside.
Some of our suppliers’ systems go beyond our SAC requirements. For example, the Caring Dairy cows supplying milk for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream all have access to cow brushes. These allow cows to carry out natural grooming behaviours and are an important environmental enrichment.
We’re raising dairy cow welfare standards
We’re working to raise standards even further. In 2016, we banned tail docking for cows in our Caring Dairy Programme in the US – a year before it became a legal requirement. In Europe, tail docking is also illegal. Globally, over 80% of our global dairy population is free of tail docking; for the remaining 20% we cannot yet guarantee that the practice does not take place. However, we're in the process of surveying suppliers to see how common it is and will work further to reduce its use. We also support the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (Opens in a new window), where tail docking is banned.
The artificial growth hormone rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also known as rBST) is illegal in Europe and in other countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Argentina. In the US, however, it is still used in milk production. Our Ben and Jerry’s brand has opposed the use of rBGH since 1989. All farmers in the Caring Dairy programme have pledged not to use it.
In 2015, our Breyers® brand in the US also committed to only sourcing milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. As of 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. Read more about Unilever’s position on the use of growth promoting substances in farm animals.
All farmers in our Caring Dairy programme in Europe need to graze their dairy cows. They can receive additional payments if they graze youngstock and achieve a higher longevity. The Caring Dairy programme also developed the Cow Compass to monitor animal health and welfare outcomes (based upon the EU welfare quality® programme (Opens in a new window)). Cow Compass has now been implemented with all our Dutch, UK and German dairy suppliers. For more details, please see the Cow Compass website (Opens in a new window) (Dutch only).
We’re also improving the welfare of dairy cows by phasing out the use of systems that involve tethering – see our 2020 Animal Welfare Progress Report (PDF 95KB) (Opens in a new window) for more information.
How we source our meat
We believe in good quality ingredients which are responsibly sourced. Our Knorr brand, for example, has been driving our animal welfare effort for meat and will continue to do so. Our approach to sourcing meat is to focus on where we can have the biggest positive impact, and to work with partners to achieve scale in our actions.
Our volumes of meat-derived ingredients are decreasing. And as part of our commitment to expand our portfolio of plant-based products, we’re also promoting plant-based alternatives to meat. The goal is to reduce our environmental impact while providing people with more choice. Our acquisitions, such as The Vegetarian Butcher, expand this choice even further.
We’re working with partners to transform the industry
Traditional meat stock or bouillon is made by simmering down meat and bones to bring out rich, flavourful juices. We use a very small part of the animal to make our stocks and bouillons, as opposed to buying whole cuts, making it sometimes difficult to drive change at scale.
To meet higher animal welfare standards for all the chicken that we use in our products, for example, we need to change the welfare conditions of 102 million chickens – even though we only buy a tiny proportion of their meat. But we’re not letting that stop us.
Since 2011, we’ve been co-investing with suppliers to support the transition to sustainable agriculture using our Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund . This is a €1 million fund to co-invest in projects that promote sustainable sourcing. We’re making the fund available to projects that are transitioning to better animal welfare for chicken, pork or beef. We welcome applications from our suppliers – apply here (PDF 1.83MB) (Opens in a new window).
We’re also one of the founding members of The Global Coalition for Animal Welfare (Opens in a new window). 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.
Our ambitions for chicken, pork & beef
For Knorr, the largest quantity of meat we buy is chicken, so this is what we will continue to focus on. Knorr is responsible for around 80% of the volume of chicken used by Unilever.
In 2017, we committed to achieving good animal welfare standards across our chicken, pork and beef supply chains everywhere in the world by 2024. We updated the specific standards we will follow to achieve that for broiler chickens in North America and Europe in accordance with the European and US Better Chicken Commitments (Opens in a new window) (see below).
With regard to pork and beef, we struggled to make progress against this target due to our relatively small sourcing quantities. This is further decreasing with our shift to more plant-based ingredients.
In light of this, we will focus initially on meeting our target for broiler chicken in North America and Europe, where we can have the most significant positive impact.
Raising broiler chicken welfare standards in North America…
By 2024, for 100% of the chicken used for Knorr and Lipton soups in North America, we will:
a) Adopt breeds that meet the criteria of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Broiler Breed Assessment Protocol or Global Animal Partnership (GAP), based on measurably improved welfare outcomes
b) Reduce stocking density to a maximum of 6 lbs/sq foot and prohibit broiler cages
c) Provide birds with enriched environments including litter, lighting and enrichment that meets GAP’s new standards (Opens in a new window)
d) 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
e) Demonstrate compliance with the above standards via third-party auditing
f) In line with our existing global commitment, chickens must have access to natural light.
… And in Europe
By 2024, for 100% of the chicken meat used for Knorr and Unox, we will:
a) Comply with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations, regardless of country of production
b) Reduce stocking density to 30 kg/m2, no cages or multi-tier systems
c) Adopt breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes that meet the criteria of the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol
d) Provide enrichment that meets standards for natural light, perches and pecking substrates:
- At least 50 lux light, including natural light
- At least two metres of usable perch space, and two pecking substrates per 1,000 birds
- On air quality, the maximum requirements of Annex 2.3 of the EU broiler directive, regardless of stocking density
e) Adopt controlled atmospheric stunning using inert gas or multi-phase systems, or effective electrical stunning without live inversion
f) Demonstrate compliance via third-party auditing and annual reporting.
Our guidelines with regard to Halal products (PDF 269KB) (Opens in a new window) 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.
Antibiotic resistance is serious
When sourcing animal-derived ingredients, producers may excessively or inappropriately use antibiotics to prevent rather than treat disease. This can lead to the anti-microbial (antibiotic) resistance – and it’s a major concern for human and animal health.
We know we can play a role. In Europe, for example, Ben & Jerry’s monitors the use of antibiotics and rewards farms with a financial premium when use is below a particular threshold. You can find out more about how we are working with our partners and our approach here.
Our reporting on progress
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 (PDF 95KB) (Opens in a new window). This demonstrates the progress we’ve made in key animal welfare areas.
Training is key to understanding
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 staff, 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.
We were identified as a Tier 3 company in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2019 Report (Opens in a new window), which was published in April 2020. This means we have an established approach to farm animal welfare. The report is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals).
Our efforts in relation to animal welfare have also been recognised with a number of successes at the Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards, organised by Compassion in World Farming.