Walmart asks its food suppliers to end inhumane agricultural treatment of cows, hens and pigs



This morning, the Humane Society of the United States informs us, Walmart announced it has adopted the "five freedoms" principles for farm animals. This means that Walmart will call on its suppliers to work toward ensuring that animals:
  1. are raised in ways that allow them to engage in natural behaviors, including having sufficient space and socialization with other members of their species
  2. are provided more comfortable living conditions
  3. are free from painful mutilations 
  4. are spared mental discomfort or distress
  5. are given ready access to water and feed
As Walmart is one of the world’s largest companies "and the nation’s biggest food seller by a long shot ... [with] a staggering 25 percent of the grocery market," HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle says, "this signal[s] an extraordinary change in agriculture in America." 

"Walmart singles out the confinement of hens in battery cages, sows in gestation crates, and calves in veal crates as practices that must end. Walmart is also working with its suppliers to address the welfare issues surrounding painful mutilations like tail docking, dehorning, castration, and to move to slaughter systems that don’t cause as much pain," Pacelle says.

This is great news, certainly (especially if you are a breeding sow, a dairy cow, or a battery hen), but it's very easy to say you'll do something difficult, while it tends to be very, well, difficult to do the difficult things that should be done. Just ask Chipotle, probably the American company that tries hardest (whether or not you think they succeed) to secure humanely raised meat and dairy products from its suppliers. Chipotle's customers howled when they weren't able to serve carnitas in many of their stores because they couldn't find a humane supplier or suppliers who could provide the volume of pork they needed.

It's a hard lesson that every growing company has to swallow: The bigger your customer base, the lower the ratio of customers who are your core fans. With popularity comes shallow acquaintances who don't always share your values.

This is "a first step," Pacelle admits, "and like all first steps, there's room for more. For example, Walmart doesn't yet have timelines for getting animals out of cages, or for achieving its commitments on other welfare issues – something we hope to solve with the company." 

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