Retailer activity powering change
This section last updated: March 1, 2014
A new landscape is emerging as the retail sector dives in on welfare expectations
Courtesy Calgary Co-op
The 'logo salad' of food companies driving change in welfare expectations seems to expand on an almost weekly basis. But what do these actions by major food brands, grocers and other retail players really mean for livestock producers and their industry?
Clearly, the implications go far beyond specific issues such as gestations stalls for sows, or cage size for hen housing. Rather, they reflect a broad trend that is fueled by rising expectations among a number of stakeholders including consumers.
A key element at the root of this trend is the conflict between the traditional image of agriculture and the realities of modern production systems. Over the past decades as farm numbers have declined, fewer people have any direct link with farm animals or the people who care for them, leaving an environment ripe with potential for misunderstanding and lack of trust.
While the controversial tactics of activists groups surely have an impact, many leaders in agriculture, acknowledging this, believe the bottom line is that onus is now on animal agriculture. The challenge boils down to a greater need to explain its approaches, foster understanding and align practices with the new expectations of consumers.
But the retail sector increasingly is not waiting around for this to happen. Finding itself in the middle between the core of the food production chain and a consumer base with an evolving mindset, retail players are more often choosing to lead animal-welfare related activity to drive the agenda toward.
Cost sharing a critical issue
As retailers take a more prominent, lead role, there is more pressure building around the question of "Who pays?" for the practice and infrastructure changes being demanded. Will the retail sector and / or government help agriculture make changes? Will consumers pay more for perceived enhanced 'welfare-friendly' products? These are just two among many questions rising to the fore.
The stakes are high, with the risk that some changes pushed forward too aggressively could result in onerous constraints on the agriculture sector and reduced viability of many producers.
Cooperative approaches gain steam
Working together across sectors, while challenging, appears for many to be the most promising and preferred path forward. Cooperation through multi-sector, consensus based models such as the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) is an encouraging example. As one respected observer has put it: It's not in anyone's interests to reduce production capacity in Canada and fill the gap with imported product that doesn't have this country's high standards, including welfare standards.
The Latest – Thinking. Ideas. Developments.
Retailer activity: Windows on an evolving world
This section last updated: March 2, 2014
Note: This section is regularly updated with new stories. Check back regularly for the most recent version of this VeriCare Live report.
What people are saying
Perspectives on progress
This section last updated: March 4, 2014
"People working in animal agriculture need to realize that this story affects their industry. This touches everyone. It's a broader reflection of the general public becoming more interested in where their food comes from and more willing to speak out when practices fail to live up to their expectations. Retailers are hearing this message from their clients, and changing their buying practices to meet this demand. This is the new reality farm animal agriculture today."
– Dr. Dan Weary, University of British Columbia, Animal Welfare Program
"We're increasingly expected to be accountable for what we sell. This is driving a new era in supply chain transparency, and the need to understand more about the characteristics, and associated issues, with what we source. We need to see effective standards that are developed by robust stakeholder engagement processes, while being financially responsible, so that we can put faith in the outcomes."
– David Smith, former Vice President of Sustainability for Sobey's
"We know our guests are showing a much greater interest in their food - not only where it comes from but what's in it. That's part of a more recent trend in Canada and North America that has been ongoing in Europe for decades. There are many components to this interest, whether specifically related to food or other aspects of sustainability such as product life cycles or supply chains. Now it's also animal welfare. It has been fascinating in recent years to see just how quickly animal welfare has really come to the forefront."
– Tim Faveri, Director of Sustainability & Responsibility, Tim Hortons
"The key learning is that animal welfare is not only about animal welfare. It's about food quality and food safety. Ultimately, it's about your product and your reputation."
– Bruce Feinberg, Senior Director, Global Quality, Worldwide Supply Chain Management, McDonald's Corporation
"We're trying to consult with producer groups and animal welfare experts to better understand the issue. One thing we know for certain is that it's not going away. We need to work together as an industry to figure our way through this."
– Deane Collinson, CEO of Calgary Co-op
"Understanding all sides of the issue is very important. We all share an interest in supporting the welfare of the animals. From an industry perspective, we need to work together to manage our reputational risk and build a resilient supply chain and industry over time. This means doing the right things and adjusting to changing needs."
– Sonya Fiorini, Senior Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, Loblaw Companies Ltd.