The Welfare Debate 3: Boehringer Ingelheim Forum Discusses McDonald's Programme

The debates of the sixth animal well-being conference in Bilbao this summer are discussed in a three part series, the last of which explores how global fast food giant McDonald's is ensuring animal welfare within Europe.
calendar icon 15 October 2013
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Boehringer Ingelheim - Farm Animal Well-Being

In addition, Dr David C J Main of Bristol University, posits the opinion that promoting trade in welfare products is made difficult because of a lack of homogeneity in labeling standards.

Animal Welfare Through the McDonald's Supply Chain

McDonald’s ensures each part of the supply chain acts to make sure farm animal welfare is maintained, said Ignacio Blanco-Traba (director for the beef supply chain in Europe, McDonald’s Europe).

“Globally we serve 69 million customers a day and in Europe in 2012 McDonald’s processed over 3 million cattle,” he said. “With big volume there is big responsibility, but we have a close partnership with suppliers and we are focused on delivering quality and value.”

He said McDonald’s ensured all stages of the production process were approved, from the feed mill, to farms, slaughter houses to deboning and patty houses.

“An animal welfare program is embedded in the wider McDonald’s program,” he said. An animal welfare beef audit designed by animal behaviour specialist, Temple Grandin, is carried out monthly in slaughterhouses. In it, a third party checks for key indicators including slipping, falling, vocalisation and ineffective stunning.

“Slaughterhouses also feedback key measurements to farmers so they can put in any necessary improvements on farm,” he said.

The company also has a Global Animal Health and Welfare team, which is currently looking at cull cattle care, laying hen housing and broiler stunning sensibility.

Although McDonald’s doesn’t have dedicated suppliers, it ensures they source produce through dedicated schemes to make sure they adhere to the company’s animal welfare requirements.

“Our attention to welfare has been driven by moral obligation first and also in response to what the consumer is asking,” Mr Blanco-Traba explained.

Farm animal welfare: What’s behind the labels?

The wide range of product labelling surrounding animal welfare means many European consumers are confused by the information on food products and frustrated in their choices, said Dr David C J Main (Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, UK).

In the UK alone, one product could contain a number of different logos, he said. “For example products can be labelled as adhering to certain assurance or organic schemes, and they may be labelled according to method of production or include higher welfare marketing claims.

“Part of the recommendations in The EU Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-2015 was to improve customer information and their empowerment,” he explained.

And although he recognised that labelling was, and would remain complicated, he said there could be some key changes in the future.

“Regulatory frameworks do exist for some production systems such as laying hens, however, some animal welfare organisations, such as Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA are actively campaigning for an extension of mandatory labelling beyond laying hens to other species.

“This gives the consumer information on the potential for high welfare that a farming system offers when well-managed,” he said.

Currently, a lack of standardization also meant it was difficult to promote trade in equivalent higher welfare products, he said.

However, in the future it may also be possible for animal welfare focused schemes to agree a voluntary international standard based upon best practice principles that would be applicable in any country, he said.

Global Animal Partnership and 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards Programme

A multi-tiered animal welfare rating program is helping to promote improvements in farm animal welfare in the USA, according to Miyun Park (executive director of Global Animal Partnership, USA).

The NGO, Global Animal Partnership as an example of multi-stakeholders working together to boost animal welfare, she said.

“Global Animal Partnership brings together farmers, scientists, ranchers, retailers and animal advocates,” she explained. “This is a diverse group with the common goal of promoting continuous improvement in the welfare of animals in agriculture.”

The organisation worked together to develop its signature initiative; the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program, which aims to promote high welfare.

“The 5-Step program is a multi-tiered welfare program, which has become a leading farm animal welfare certification system in North America,” Ms Park explained.

Whereas single tiered programs only encourage producers to meet minimum standards, the multi-tiered program promotes continuous improvements in farm animal welfare. Producers have the option to progress through the tier system to the defined higher level of welfare outlined by step 5+, she said.

“Each Step rating has its own distinct label affixed on products that identifies the particular Step level achieved,” said Ms Park.

“In essence Step 1 prohibits cages and crates, while the highest level, step 5+ sees the entire life of animal spent on an integrated farm,” she said.

With 76% of USA consumers saying farm animal wellbeing was more important than low price, and nearly 89% agreeing that food companies with a requirement for farmers to treat animals better were doing the right thing, such labelling allowed consumers to select produce based on welfare standards.

Further Reading

Go to part two in the series on Boehringer Ingelheim's welfare debates by clicking here.

Read more Boehringer Ingelheim News here

Boehringer Ingelheim - Farm Animal Well-Being
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