Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest food retailer, is making some big asks of its suppliers. The mega-retailer is urging “thousands of U.S. suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals and improve treatment of them.” The guidelines identify sow gestation crates, battery cages and other housing that doesn’t provide adequate space for animals. Suppliers are being asked to consider pain management for certain procedures, such as de-horning. Wal-Mart is also asking its suppliers to produce progress reports on antibiotic use and animal welfare (and to post those reports on their websites to increase transparency). The company is increasing pressuring on suppliers “to report animal abuse to authorities and take disciplinary action.”
While the practices are not mandatory and no deadlines have been set, given the sheer size of Wal-Mart and what some term its “outsized influence on its suppliers’ practices,” changes are certain to follow. The guidelines also apply to suppliers for Sam’s Club.
The move, in response to consumer demand and pressure from outside groups (including animal welfare organizations), is being widely recognized as significant for the industry. The announcement was greeted with praise.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called it “game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending.”
Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of Wal-Mart’s sustainability division, also offered comments:
“We think what’s needed is a fresh look at how we can look at producing food. This is an industrywide change. It won’t happen overnight,” she said. “It’s about transparency.” For example, she noted that with antibiotics, “We don’t know a lot about who was using what for what reason.”
A must read. Information for this post was also provided by Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, on his blog, A Humane Nation. H/T to Terrie Ellerbee of the Shelby Report, a publication serving the grocery industry.