NEWS/EVENTS: Meat - Free Week

For meat -free week, an interview with Matthew Prescott, Director of Corporate Outreach for the Humane Society of the United States.

It’s the second annual meat-free week in DC!  This year the lineup, running from February 7th-13th, includes educational information about meat-free cooking, volunteering, and LOTS of vegetarian food options!  Check out dcvegan for all the info.   

Right now it seems like we're all vegetarians and we were happy to discover through the week’s advertisements, and an expansive list of restaurants sorted by neighborhood offering faux meat dishes. 

Our online interview with Matthew Prescott highlights some of the less appetizing aspects of farming, as well as some promising trends in the industry.  Read on to learn how the HSUS is working on behalf of farm animals, and the importance consumers are placing on the issue.

SSC: What are the concerns around animal welfare in Corporate America?

Matthew: More than 90% of egg-laying hens are crammed into cages so small they can’t even spread their wings. In these barren, wire cages, each bird is given less space than a single sheet of paper on which to spend her entire life. Many companies are now working to move away from this practice, and other similarly cruel confinement practices. Unilever and Subway recently stated they are moving to 100% cage-free eggs in their products. Other companies that now use cage-free eggs include Sara Lee, Kraft (the nation’s largest food company), Burger King, Quiznos, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Golden Corral, Cracker Barrel, Arby’s, Denny’s, Wendy’s, Whataburger, Sonic, all top three cruise companies (Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines), AMTRAK and Virgin America. Compass Group—the world’s largest foodservice company—has switched 100% of its shell eggs to cage-free.

SSC:  What is the business case for animal welfare? Why should companies take this issue seriously (and not just as a “feel good” initiative)?

Matthew: Consumers want the companies they patronize to support good animal welfare practices. A survey by the leading food industry-consulting firm—Technomic—found that animal welfare is the third-most important social issue to American restaurant patrons. In making his 2011 predictions, consumer food trends analyst Phil Lempert wrote: “Move over local. Move over organic. Humane is stepping in.” In fact, the issue is so prominent, that Citigroup wrote that “concerns over animal cruelty” present a “headline risk” to restaurant chains.

These findings make sense, considering the mass public attention paid to the issue. In 2010, The New York Times editorial board wrote that it hopes “industrial confinement” of farm animals “will turn out to be…a relatively short-lived anomaly in modern farming.” AnAmerican Conservative cover article written by George W. Bush’s former speechwriter titled “Torture on the Farm” made the case for “why conservatives should care about animal cruelty.”  TIME magazine has run multiple articles about the issue, including one which pointed out that “factory hens are … crowded and all but immobilized, reduced to little more than egg laying machines.” Even the Pope has weighed in, saying that the extreme confinement of egg laying hens “contradicts the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.”

Additionally, states have begun legislating on this issue—seven have passed laws to phase-out certain forms of farm animal confinement. California has passed a law to outlaw the sale of whole eggs from caged hens by 2015. Similar legislation is now pending elsewhere. By tackling this issue proactively, companies are not only following a top social trend but also putting themselves ahead of emerging legislation.

SSC: How does a company determine what its animal welfare impacts are? Is this an issue just for agribusiness, or does every company need to be concerned?

Matthew: The Humane Society of the United States has helped—at absolutely no cost—many of the world’s largest food companies identify animal welfare problems in their supply chains and work toward making incremental solutions to those problems. Of working with us, Sara Lee wrote, “The Humane Society of the United States is a terrific resource in our efforts to source more humane and sustainable products. They understand the importance of finding ways of fitting humane initiatives into already existing business models.” Any company that wants to explore the issue should feel free to contact us any time.

SSC:  What are three things you would recommend that every company does to improve its impact on animal welfare?

Matthew: The best thing any company can do to begin evaluating its animal welfare footprint is to contact The HSUS. We’ll work privately with any company that wants to address the issue. Additionally, companies ought to look at the housing practices of their egg and pork suppliers, particularly. Are the birds kept in cages? Does the supplier offer a cage-free egg product? Are pigs used for breeding in the pork supply chain kept in tiny crates while they’re pregnant? These are just some questions that consumers are now asking and they provide a good start to any animal welfare evaluation.

SSC: Where can people go for more information on this issue?

Matthew: People can visit The Humane Society of the United States’ web site, more information or contact us on (301) 721-6422.