Farm animal welfare
Animal welfare is a topic of frequent concern appearing on the agendas of consumers and NGOs as well as in government regulations.
A number of our products include ingredients that come from farm animals, such as eggs in mayonnaise and dairy products in ice cream. In addition, we source small amounts of meat for our 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 (SAC) (PDF | 8MB) 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, where we have made significant progress in partnerships with suppliers.
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 its products. In Europe, all our brands including Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have used 100% cage-free eggs since 2009. We are committed to extending this 100% cage free achievement (for all egg products) to the whole of Europe and North America by the end of 2020, and to the rest of the world by the end of 2025.
We are making significant progress; by the end of 2019, 65% of our global egg supply was cage-free. We will update this figure annually on this website.
We are aware of the concerns about the practice whereby 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 closely following the development of alternative options to current practice and are committed to providing support to the market introduction of these technologies once available to our suppliers.
Welfare of dairy cows
Our ambition, as set out in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, is to purchase all our dairy ingredients from sustainable sources by 2020. This is in accordance with our updated Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC). By the end of 2019, 78% of our dairy ingredients came from sustainable sources. You can find out more on our Sustainable Dairy page.
Through the SAC, we require producers to work with veterinary experts to develop health plans to ensure cattle are monitored to prevent or treat any illness and disease. The aim is to protect cattle from physical discomfort, enable natural behaviour and encourage suppliers to allow cows to graze outside.
In January 2016 we banned tail docking for cows in our Caring Dairy Programme in the US. This also became a legal requirement in the US in January 2017. In Europe, tail docking is illegal.
Likewise, the artificial growth hormone r-BGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) is illegal in Europe. However, in the US r-BGH is still used in the production of milk. Ben and Jerry’s has been opposed to the use of rBGH since 1989 and 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.
All farmers in the Caring Dairy programme in Europe need to graze their dairy cows and can receive additional payments if they graze youngstock and achieve a higher longevity. The Caring Dairy programme has also developed the Cow Compass programme that monitors animal health and welfare (based upon the EU welfare quality programme). This programme has been rolled out to all Dutch and German dairy companies and was introduced in the UK in 2019. For more detail please see the Cow Compass website (Dutch only).
Meat Sourcing - Focus and partner for chicken, pork and beef
Unilever believes in good quality ingredients which are responsibly sourced. Our Knorr brand is one of the brands that has been driving the animal welfare effort for meat at Unilever and will continue to do so. Considering our decreasing volumes of meat-derived ingredients, our approach is to focus on where we can make the most impact and work with partners to achieve scale in our actions.
However, as part of our commitment to expand our portfolio of plant-based products we are also promoting plant-based alternatives to meat. The aim is to reduce our environmental impact whilst providing people with more choice which suits their eating habits. Our recent acquisitions such as The Vegetarian Butcher will expand this choice even further.
Working with 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. By example, 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 the meat.
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).
More recently, we have decided to join the industry-level group – The Global Coalition for Animal Welfare – to work together with others to try to accelerate the transition to higher welfare systems and generate greater supply of higher welfare meat products in the supply chain.
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.
Responsible use of antibiotics
Unilever acknowledge that during the sourcing of animal-derived ingredients, suppliers may excessively or inappropriately use antibiotics to prevent rather than treat disease. This can lead to the emergence of resistant bacteria that then do not respond to treatment, causing antibiotic resistance - a major concern for human and animal health. As we source products from livestock supply chains, we know we can play a role. You can find how we are working with our partners and our approach here (PDF | 92KB).
As part of our commitment to be more transparent about our animal welfare progress we are now publicly reporting our purchase of ingredients from higher animal welfare systems (PDF | 76KB), showing the progress we have made in key animal welfare areas.
Focus on regional targets
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 everywhere in the world by 2024, and updated the specific standards we will follow to achieve that for broiler chickens in North America and Europe.
With regard to pork and beef, we struggled to make progress against this target due to our relatively small sourcing quantities, which is further decreasing with our shift to more plant-based ingredients. Going forward we will focus on meeting our target for broiler chicken in North America and Europe, where we can have the most significant positive impact.
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 Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (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 | 10.1 MB).
d) Process chickens in a manner that avoids pre-stun handling and instead utilises 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.
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:
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 the following standards (natural light, perches and pecking substrates)
e) Multi-step or inert gas, Controlled Atmosphere processing system or effective electrical stunning without live inversion*
f) Demonstrate compliance via third party auditing and annual public reporting.
Unilever was identified as a Tier 3 company (one having an established approach to farm animal welfare) in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2019 Report. This report was published in April 2020 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.
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.