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Behavior Change
NGOs Prompt Sweeping Improvements to Animal Welfare in the Dairy Supply Chain

Animal welfare NGOs Mercy for Animals (MFA) and The Humane League declared victories this week, having motivated more large food companies to reform their animal treatment policies, this time after exposing supplier cruelty toward dairy cows and veal calves.

Animal welfare NGOs Mercy for Animals (MFA) and The Humane League declared victories this week, having motivated more large food companies to reform their animal treatment policies, this time after exposing supplier cruelty toward dairy cows and veal calves.

Nestlé and Kraft Foods both enacted sweeping improvements to their policies regarding the welfare of farm animals in their supply chains, after MFA released undercover video of abuse, mistreatment and mutilation at various supplier facilities in 2014 and 2012, respectively. Now Great Lakes Cheese, one of the world’s largest cheese producers, has announced a significant new animal welfare policy following another disturbing MFA video that exposed similar offenses on their supplier dairy farms. Case in point: Footage taken at Wisconsin’s Andrus Dairy, a former Great Lakes Cheese supplier, showed workers viciously punching, kicking and beating animals, cutting off their tails with pruning shears, shooting cows in the face and nostrils with high-pressured water hoses, and dragging them by their necks with ropes attached to tractors.

Great Lakes Cheese says it is now requiring its dairy suppliers nationwide to abide by new animal welfare standards. The policy mandates an end to the cruel and unnecessary practice of tail docking by 2018; pain relief during disbudding or dehorning; provision of a safe, clean, and sanitary environment for cows; and proper veterinary care for sick and injured animals.

“Mercy for Animals praises Great Lakes Cheese for taking animal welfare seriously and working toward ending some of the cruelest practices in its dairy supply chain,” said Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals. “This policy, which includes an industry-leading commitment to eliminate tail docking within three years, will reduce the suffering of thousands of cows each year.
“While this is one of the most comprehensive animal welfare policies ever adopted by a major U.S. dairy company, we encourage Great Lakes Cheese to make this policy more meaningful by engaging third-party auditors to ensure that these standards are enforced.”

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Runkle said that Great Lakes Cheese’s announcement shows that days are thankfully numbered for dairy factory farms that beat, drag, and mutilate animals – and challenged other industry giants to ensure similar minimum improvements throughout their own supply chains.
“It’s now time for Dean Foods, Land O’Lakes and other mega dairy companies to address animal cruelty within their supply chains by implementing and enforcing similar animal welfare requirements,” Runkle said.

Meanwhile, Sodexo, Inc., a leading quality of life services company in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, last month announced that it will eliminate the use of veal crates from its supply chain by 2017. It will also extend its previous commitments to source all of its eggs from cage-free hens by the end of 2020, as a result of an aggressive animal rights advocacy campaign facilitated by The Humane League.

“The Humane League may be a smaller nonprofit organization, but we have a big impact on the farming industry and facilitate system-wide change,” David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, said in a statement. “We are very proud that our organization can make major changes at some of the world’s largest food corporations with limited financial investments driving our national campaigns. The Humane League has built a strong grassroots presence via our national network of regional organizers who engage local activists and rally student support on campuses. This gives us an exceptionally large reach for such a small organization.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 9 billion land animals are raised in the United States every year for meat, milk and eggs, and most of them have little or no legal protection. These animals represent more than 95 percent of the animals used and killed in the United States each year, and because they are largely excluded from anti-cruelty laws, many suffer intensely on today's factory farms. Vast majorities are subject to intense confinement where they are denied most basic behaviors and are frequently unable to spread their wings, stretch their limbs or turn around. In addition to welfare issues, factory farms have significant environmental and human health implications due to overcrowding and improper and insufficient waste disposal. Several food chains including Chipotle, Panera Bread and most recently, McDonald’s, have led the way in raising the bar for animal welfare, but it will take much broader industry action to make humane and healthy treatment of farm animals the norm.