Usually, when Walmart is in the news, it’s for all the wrong reasons. They’re notorious for questionable business practices, including underpaying their employees and running a discriminatory workplace. They’ve also been heavily criticized for their heavy dependence on foreign product sourcing, treatment of product suppliers, environmental practices, and their use of public subsidies.
Socially conscious shoppers across the nation have a plethora of reasons to turn their backs on Walmart, which makes their recent announcement regarding animal welfare all the more surprising.
On May 22, Walmart published new recommendations to their suppliers of farm animals, stating, “We recognize that farm animals play an important role in providing nutritious meat, dairy and eggs to our customers and members. We believe that farm animals in our supply chain should be treated humanely throughout their lives and that the welfare of farm animals should be considered in selection of all production systems, practices and technologies. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. are committed to continuous improvement in the welfare of farm animals in our supply chain.”
They went on to say that they “expect that our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.”
While this seems like good news so far, their second point is where the sense of victory seems to get a little complicated. They say, “Second, we support the globally-recognized “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare as an aspiration for animal welfare in our supply chain.”
It’s the addition of that little phrase “as an aspiration,” that has animal rights activists giving this announcement by Walmart suspicious, sidelong looks.
It’s not that we don’t want to see these changes, it’s that Walmart has a terrible track record when it comes to doing “the right thing” even for their own employees, let alone farm animals.
The Five Freedoms were established by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and designed to describe the ideal, rather than acceptable, states for farm animals so that their physical and mental states could be protected. The Five Freedoms are:
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
- Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
- Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
- Freedom to Express Normal Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
- Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
There is currently neither a timeline in place for these changes to happen, nor any details on how Walmart will enforce this policy should it become anything more than a request of their suppliers.
Given that Walmart is only “asking” their supplies to abide by their animal welfare stance rather than “demanding” it, it’s hard to speculate as to when this “aspiration” could become a reality. With 25% of the American grocery market share, Walmart is a big player that has the economic clout to make these demands.
Thankfully, the humane treatment of farm animals is a trend that doesn’t appear to need Walmart to lead the way on progress. Recently, Montreal-based dairy giant Saputo confirmed it will refuse to buy milk from farmers that don’t treat their animals humanely after an undercover video was made public showing cows being punched, kicked and beaten with pipes at one of its suppliers. It’s hardline, tough decisions like Saputo’s that are making an immediate and measurable changes for the benefit of farm animals. Suppliers need to understand that abusing animals cannot be tolerated, rather than “asking” them not to do so.
Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. We’ll have to wait and see if Walmart actually takes the steps to make the Five Freedoms a reality for their farm animals, or if this is just a ploy to improve their dismal public image.
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