BUSINESS

Walmart Asks Meat Producers To Treat Their Animals Better

05/22/2015 12:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015
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The world's biggest retailer is calling for more humane standards of animal welfare -- a moo-ve that advocates say could represent a major step toward the end of some farming practices thought of as especially cruel.

In a statement released Friday, Walmart acknowledged the growing public concern for the humane treatment of farm animals, and outlined its new farm-animal welfare guidelines.

Among them: that suppliers to Walmart and Sam’s Club should ensure their animals are free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress, and that they're able to "express normal behavior" and have access to "sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind." (These guidelines encompass what are known as the "five freedoms" of animal welfare.)

The company said it's asking its deli, dairy and egg suppliers, as well as its suppliers of fresh and frozen meat, to get rid of pig gestation crates and other housing systems that keep animals confined to small enclosures, and to report and take disciplinary action against animal abuse.

Suppliers are also being asked to provide transparency on these issues, with annual reports to Walmart and to the public.

"Asked" is a key word here. Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of Walmart's sustainability division, told the Associated Press that these guidelines aren't mandatory and don't come with a time frame for implementation. However, she said, they set the company on a progressive path.

"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. We don't know a lot about who was using what for what reason."

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, is among those cheering Walmart's new stance as an encouraging first step.

“Walmart’s animal welfare announcement is game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending," said Pacelle in a statement. "We're looking forward to continuing our work with Walmart and hope to see them put implementation timelines in place. And we’re optimistic about helping other food companies strengthen their policies to create a more humane society for all.”

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