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Food Companies 'Unfocused' on Farm Animal Welfare

16 February 2017

UK - By failing to fully understand and embrace the principles of farm animal welfare, big supermarket chains could be causing environmental damage and imperilling the long-term viability of their businesses, according to the University of Huddersfield's Dr John Lever.

His latest publication investigates the extent to which farm animal welfare is part of the corporate social responsibility (CSP) strategies adopted by large food companies.

It is argued that welfare is currently "unfocussed and separate" from the core business agendas of large global food companies. Big firms "have little understanding of why they engage with welfare in the first place" and fail to make connections with broader issues of sustainability.

“There is mounting evidence that improvements in farm animal welfare can be linked to the three pillars of sustainable development – environment, society and economy,” writes Dr Lever in his contribution to the new book Stages of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Increasing numbers of consumers view animal welfare as an important issue in its own right, but "it seems clear that many companies use farm animal welfare simply to communicate brand awareness through differentiated product ranges," according to Dr Lever, who co-authored the book chapter with Dr Adrian Evans, of Coventry University.

"While some companies are starting to make commitments that appear to go beyond the usual public relations 'greenwashing'," Dr Lever stated that this new corporate embrace of FAW is part of a big brand takeover aligned with responsible business practice at the expense of the environmental sustainability concerns."

Partnership working between non-governmental organisations and supermarkets has helped to improve awareness of farm animal welfare over the last 25 years. But Dr Lever states that the recent intensification of this process means that many global food companies are struggling to catch up and understand the connections between the welfare of farmed animals and wider sustainability issues.

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