Animal Welfare Regulations Don’t Always Help Animals
Typical corporate social responsibility (CSR) approaches combine several factors such as the environment, labor conditions, and human rights. Animal welfare is less often recognized, and it’s usually considered a separate topic. As emerging multinational (EMN) meat producers expand their global reach, they become subject to a multitude of standards and regulations imposed by the countries and regions where they have new customers. To retain their newfound markets, they may need to adopt their own CSR standards.
How these companies respond to new expectations is a subject of increasing interest. For example, raising animals for food is crucial to livelihoods in Latin America. As a region, it is the top worldwide exporter of cow and chicken meat. Unfortunately, the demand for ever-larger amounts of meat has led the region’s producers to adopt more confinement systems for raising animals. As Brazilian EMNs expand to Western markets, their production methods must negotiate a balance between the profit motive and animal welfare requirements.
For this study, researchers performed content analysis on the annual reports of two multinational Brazilian meat processors, JBS and BRF. They wanted to learn how internationalization at these firms affected their animal welfare standards and whether these standards improved animal lives. To simplify the analysis, they focused on broiler chickens traded in the European Union.
To inform their analysis, the authors also synthesized research on broiler chicken welfare through a meta-analysis. They combined three studies on four farms that examined factors such as the number of drinkers, food availability, litter, ventilation, lighting, cleaning, inspection, and stocking density. Finally, they interviewed five industry professionals about their views on animal welfare in Brazil. Questions covered the effects of welfare standards in Brazil, how suppliers manage the standards, and their views on the actual welfare of the chickens.
Animal welfare standards typically originate with the buyers of the products. The content of these standards is influenced by government regulations, the scientific community, industry groups and associations, consumers, social activists, and NGOs. In broiler chicken production (which is usually governed by contract systems between suppliers and integrated farmers), animal welfare standards typically set limits on stocking density, alkalinity control, cleanliness of bedding, lighting, and ventilation. These requirements are placed upon the suppliers, and EMNs like JBS and BRF require their suppliers to conform to the rules and standards and may reward or punish them based on their compliance.
The content analysis of the annual reports suggests that EMNs are paying more attention to animal welfare. However, selling in markets with more robust welfare standards still does not guarantee good welfare. Some aspects, particularly those related to grower performance and productivity, receive more focus than others. Quality food and water availability may improve, but crowded conditions may increase chicken injuries and worsen their emotional states. Also, suppliers at the bottom of the production chain may not follow the standards, and EMN oversight may be lax. Finally, when local farm and production conditions are ignored in favor of a “one size fits all” regulatory approach, animals may actually suffer even more. An example of this is enclosing aviaries in warmer climates. Open-sided buildings in these areas are preferable for ventilation and provide the chickens with a more livable environment.
Overall, the authors conclude that animal welfare standards imposed upon EMNs are still not stringent enough to have positive impacts on the lives of farmed animals. This will not surprise animal advocates. As long as production and profit are the primary criteria for measuring success, animals will continue to lead miserable lives. Advocates can push for changes in how animals are treated, but ultimately a more humane food system comes down to societal demands. Until people are convinced to consider what’s on their plate, animals will continue to suffer.