Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Walmart makes waves

Ground breaking animal welfare policy sends major ripples throughout agriculture and food

Posted: June 4, 2015

Last fall Walmart announced a new commitment to making its food supply chain more sustainable, including strengthened focus on animal welfare, with much fanfare at its Global Milestone Meeting, which built on momentum from its first-ever Sustainable Product Expo earlier that year.

Now the other shoe has dropped with the retail giant's launch of a major new animal welfare policy that encompasses Walmart's complete supply chain and covers a broad number of practices and issues from use of antimicrobials to housing systems, 'painful procedures' and euthanasia.

"Our customers want to know more about how their food is grown and raised, and where it comes from," says Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and senior vice president of Walmart sustainability. "As the nation's largest grocer, Walmart is committed to using our strengths to drive transparency and improvement across the supply chain.

"We believe it's important to promote transparency in this process, helping to put our customers in charge of their food choices by providing clear, accurate information about food ingredients. We appreciate the leadership our suppliers have shown to help us accomplish these goals."

Digging through the details

Lightening rod? Game-changer? Big changes or small? What does it mean for livestock producers on the front line of production? The policy covers Walmart's U.S. operations and in practical terms sets a framework Canada and other jurisdictions will need to operate within as well, though many believe Canada already has a strong leg up through its proactive actions in recent years such as updating national Codes of Practice.

Overall the news brings implications throughout the world of agriculture and food, with many digesting what it means and where it takes the industry both short and long-term. More details are expected to emerge in the coming months as Walmart works with suppliers to support the new policy.

Welfare steps

Specifically for now, regarding animal welfare, Walmart is calling on suppliers to deliver:

  • Fast action and transparency on abuse. Report and take disciplinary and corrective action in cases of animal abuse.
  • Updated best practices. Find and implement solutions to address animal welfare concerns in housing systems, painful procedures and euthanasia or slaughter.
  • Improved transparency. Promote transparency by providing progress reports to Walmart and publicly reporting against their own corporate animal welfare position on annual basis.

Use of antimicrobials

Regarding antimicrobials, it is asking suppliers to:

  • Practice judicious use. Adopt and implement the Judicious Use Principles of Antimicrobial Use from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) including accurate record-keeping, veterinary oversight, and limiting antimicrobial treatment to animals that are ill or at risk.
  • Align with FDA guidance. Adopt and implement Voluntary Guidance for Industry #209 from the Food and Drug Administration in their own operations and their industry producer programs, including eliminating growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics
  • Provide reporting. Promote transparency by providing a report on antibiotics management to Walmart and publicly report antibiotic use on an annual basis.

Treading softly and carefully

For now these components for both welfare and antimicrobials are not strictly mandatory and the company has said it will work with suppliers to bring everyone on line. Various commentators have noted the company is choosing its words carefully and treading softly as it wades into implementation of the new policy. A large component of major suppliers is believed already in compliance or in a good position to meet the new compliance requirements as they currently stand. Many see the Walmart action primarily focused on setting the stage for greater monitoring that will lead to more detailed actions in the future.

Official reaction from industry has been overall positive. Perhaps not surprisingly as the new policy reflects trends and shifts that many have accepted and already been proactive in addressing.

FDA 'final rule' hot on the heels

What's next and when? Action on the welfare file has firmly established as a front burner issue in recent years and all signs point to that not only continuing but trending upward. Crossover with the antimicrobials issue has also increased and parallel developments on both fronts are expected to continue at a rapid clip in the coming months.

Hot on the heels of the Walmart announcement has been another major decision - announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the "final rule" on its new policy for use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. This move targets a slashing of routine use of antimicrobials and has effectively placed their use in feed under veterinary supervision so the drugs are given only when necessary for health reasons.

Watch for more updates and reaction from different industry sectors in future editions of NewStream Farm Animal Care.

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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