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Farm animal welfare

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

Background

A number of our products include ingredients that come from farm animals, such as eggs in mayonnaise, dairy products in ice cream and meat in bouillons and soups. Farm animal welfare has been one of Unilever’s core sustainable agriculture indicators for many years and is part of our Sustainable Agriculture Code (PDF | 2MB) launched in 2010 and updated in 2017.

Unilever is not a leading buyer of animal-derived ingredients and our approach requires successful implementation by our supply chain partners. Based on the volumes we purchase, our major focus was initially on sourcing cage-free eggs and on our dairy supply chain, where we have made significant progress in partnerships with suppliers.

In 2017, 42% of our global meat supply complied with our Sustainable Agriculture Code, which meant complying with requirements on all aspects of sustainability. This has decreased from 51% in 2016 due to a shift in focus towards even higher animal welfare standards for meat, rather than the full range of sustainability issues.

In January 2016 we banned tail docking for cows in our Caring Dairy Programme. In the US this became a legal requirement in January 2017. In Europe, tail docking is not permitted. Furthermore, no r-BST (also illegal in Europe) is permitted in the production of milk in the US for the Caring Dairy programme. In 2015 our Breyers® brand in the US committed to only sourcing milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones (a similar commitment was previously made by our Ben & Jerry’s brand). All farmers in the Caring Dairy programme in Europe need to graze their dairy cows.

We have received confirmation from our suppliers that certain specific animal welfare standards have been applied. These include: maximum journey times (less than 8 hours) for animals (69%); pre-slaughter stunning (69%); standards for dairy cows such as the absence of tail docking (40%); pigs free from sow stalls (97%).

Brackets() represent the proportion of the volumes in our global portfolio for which we have received confirmation.

In Europe, where we source a substantial volume of our animal ingredients, we demand specific standards for animal welfare which include: provisions for cage-free eggs; dairy cows (sustainable dairy); group housing for sows; transport requirements and pre-slaughter stunning.

In our Sustainable Agriculture Code, we have stated that antibiotics should only be used “prudently with the aim of optimising therapeutic efficiency and minimising the development of antibiotic resistance”.

Our ambition, as set out in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, is to purchase all our animal-derived ingredients from sustainable sources by 2020.

Our working method for monitoring and improving animal welfare is based on the five 'freedoms':

  • freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
  • freedom from discomfort
  • freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • freedom to express normal behaviour
  • freedom from fear and distress.

Unilever’s position

Farm animal welfare is part of our Sustainable Agriculture Code. Detailed requirements are included in our implementation guides (see Downloads). We have set out clear standards of care that we expect our suppliers to achieve. We ensure our suppliers comply with legal requirements and help them to improve their performance in order to meet our Sustainable Agriculture Code requirements. Unilever will be transparent about the specific welfare standards used for our animal-derived ingredients and will report on a regular basis about the progress made.

We believe good farm animal welfare schemes include issues such as housing and stocking density, hygiene, feeding and feed, water supply, health management and the responsible use of antibiotics, the avoidance of mutilations, transport, traceability and slaughtering methods.

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 products. In Western Europe our Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé brands have used 100% cage-free eggs since 2009. We are making significant progress in our commitment to convert 100% of our global egg supply to cage-free eggs by 2025. In 2016, 53% of our global egg supply was cage-free. Through our supply partners, we have created additional capacity to source cage-free eggs. We have set a goal of completing this conversion by 2020 for Europe and North America. For all other regions we will engage in industry initiatives to support the transition to cage-free egg production with expected conversion in the timescale of 2020 to 2025.

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 standard practice in egg production, 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 to current practice. We are committed to providing support to 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. We welcomed the June 2016 announcement from the United Egg Producers in the US that they are aiming to eliminate the culling of male chicks by 2020, through the introduction of in-ovo sexing of eggs.

External recognition

Unilever achieved Tier 2 (Integral to Business Strategy) in the fourth ‘Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2016 Report’. This report was published in January 2017 and is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals). It 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 commitments made both in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, and as separate brand commitments.

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.

In the period 2008-2013, Unilever won 14 awards: 4 Good Egg Awards for Hellman’s in Europe and the US; 2 Good Egg Awards for Ben & Jerry's in Europe and the US; 2 Good Egg Awards for Unilever Spreads and Dressings; 1 Good Egg Award for Amora; 1 Good Egg Award for Calve; 1 Good Dairy Award for Ben and Jerry’s; 1 Good Chicken Award and 1 Good Calf Commendation for UNOX (Netherlands); and the European Leader Award for Unilever.

Knorr: 100% good animal welfare chicken, pork and beef by 2024

We believe in good quality ingredients which are responsibly sourced. We have already made progress by sourcing 95% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs sustainably in 2016. In 2015 we committed to getting 100% of the chicken, pork and beef that we use in our soups, sauces, bouillon cubes and bouillon powder to good animal welfare standards.

We were presented with Compassion in World Farming’s first Special Recognition Award for our ambition to advance animal welfare practices in our supply chain and raise standards across the industry. Since 2015 we have been working with the industry, particularly in North America, where we helped to organise a forum to bring together meat buyers and accelerate change. In 2017 we committed to achieving good animal welfare standards across our chicken, pork and beef everywhere in the world by 2024, and updated the specific standards we will follow to achieve that for broiler chickens in North America. As a brand, we buy the largest quantity of chicken, so this is where we are starting. We are responsible for around 80% of the volume of chicken used by Unilever.

With no global common standard on animal welfare available, and standards varying across species and regions, we have been working with Compassion in World Farming – the leading international farm animal welfare charity – since 2015 to develop global criteria for good animal welfare and a framework to start transforming our supply chain.

Our global commitment to good animal welfare standards

  1. Natural light: Animals must have access to natural light.
  2. Enrichment: Animals can be raised indoors, but must have an enriched environment which lets them express natural behaviour. For chickens, this can mean they have deep litter which lets them dust-bathe, and objects to perch on.
  3. Enough space: For chickens, for example, this means a stocking density of no more than 30kg / m².
  4. Healthy animals: Fast growing breeds of chicken can suffer from difficulty walking and poor leg health. We will only use meat from slower growing breeds of chicken in the US and EU. For other regions, our minimum standard is that suppliers using faster growing breeds must have a leg health plan in place for their chickens.

We have committed to these standards of animal welfare globally, and the commitment is based on the ‘better’ standard of Compassion in World Farming’s more detailed welfare matrix for pigs (PDF | 518KB), broiler chickens (PDF | 236KB) and beef cattle (PDF | 387KB), which has been benchmarked and codified by Compassion in World Farming. We will implement our commitment through equivalent local third-party certification schemes, or where these don’t exist, use third-party auditors to ensure that our suppliers meet the detailed welfare requirements.

We have worked with independent external experts to assess current practices in our supply chain and, with the help of Compassion in World Farming, we have started engaging supplier partners on improvements needed to bring consistent and positive change across our supply chain.

Our regional targets

USA: Knorr and Lipton soups commit to good animal welfare standards for broiler chickens by 2024

For 100% of the chicken we use in the US, we will:

a) Transition to strains of birds accepted for use by RSPCA 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 enriched environments including litter, lighting, and enrichment that meets GAP’s new standards (PDF | 595KB).

d) Process chickens in a manner that avoids pre-stun handling and instead utilizes 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, we will also require that chickens have access to natural light.

In addition, we will meet good animal welfare requirements for pork and beef by 2024, based on the ‘better’ standard of Compassion in World Farming’s detailed welfare matrix for pigs (PDF | 518KB) and beef cattle (PDF | 387KB). We will use recognised certification schemes which ensure good animal welfare standards to ensure compliance.

Europe: Knorr and Unox commit to good animal welfare standards by 2024

By 2024, 100% of the chicken meat used for Knorr and Unox will: 

i. Comply with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations, regardless of country of production

ii. Reduce Stocking Density to 30 kg/m2, no cages or multi-tier systems

iii. Adopt breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes or others that meet the criteria of the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol

iv. Provide enrichment that meets the following standards (natural light, perches and pecking substrates)

v. Multi-step or inert gas, Controlled Atmosphere processing system or effective electrical stunning without live inversion*

vi. Demonstrate compliance via third party auditing and annual public reporting.

In addition, we will meet good animal welfare requirements for pork and beef by 2024, based on the ‘better’ standard of Compassion in World Farming’s detailed welfare matrix for pigs (PDF | 518KB) and beef cattle (PDF | 387KB). We will use recognised certification schemes which ensure good animal welfare standards to ensure compliance.

We have also co-invested with one of our pork suppliers to pilot a new pigsty design which keeps the temperature right for piglets and reduces their stress.   

*Our Slaughtering Guidelines (PDF | 2MB) are an integral part of our animal welfare commitment. Our guidelines with regard to Halal products (PDF | 270KB) include our commitment to offer Halal products based on market demands. We respect the preference of our Muslim consumers for products meeting Halal requirements. From an animal welfare perspective Unilever requires stunning to be carried out prior to slaughter, whenever permitted under local regulations.

We need partners to transform the industry

Traditional meat stock or bouillon has always been 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. To meet higher animal welfare standards for all of the chicken that we use in our products, we need to change the welfare conditions of 102 million chickens, even though we only buy a tiny proportion of their meat. Because we have a relatively small influence over the market, we need other companies to join us in requiring the same standards.

Since 2011 we have been co-investing with suppliers to support the transition to sustainable agriculture using our Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund, a 1 million Euro fund to co-invest in projects that promote sustainable sourcing. We are making the fund available to suppliers who need support for projects to transition to better animal welfare chicken, pork or beef, and we welcome applications from our suppliers – apply here (PDF | 2MB).

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