Cage-free chickens in Easterbrook, Canada

Change for chickens: how partnerships can have a global impact on animal welfare


Jonty Whittleton, Head of Campaigns on the international farming team, submits that the key to providing better lives for the 70 billion animals farmed for food annually relies on making global, large-scale changes within the industry.

Picture yourself as an unhatched female chick, ready to enter the world. You’ve spent around 20 days cocooned in your egg, warm and safe. After hours of patient chipping at the tough shell that’s kept you alive for the last few weeks, you finally break free. It’s one of nature’s miracles. But if you’re one of the unlucky ones, your next home is a cramped cage, in which you’ll spend your whole life laying eggs for the world’s dining tables. This is the sad reality for billions of chicks every year.

Thankfully, this story often has a happier ending these days. For egg-laying chicks at least, we are moving slowly but surely to a “post-cage” era. Take our global partners Nestlé – the world’s biggest food and drink brand – which has just announced that all of the eggs it buys in the United States will come from cage-free farms by 2020. This decision means that ultimately millions of hens will have better lives every year, living free of cages. An achievement we are very proud of.

When multinational corporations such as Nestlé make a change to their supply chain, the effects can be truly profound, improving the lives of billions of farm animals. The food giant joins a growing group of companies – including Panera Bread, Taco Bell and McDonald’s – that now recognise a cage is no place for a hen.

Partnering for good

We have been working closely with Nestlé since 2014 to to help them ensure the highest possible levels of welfare for the animals they rear for food. It’s not a case of simply meeting government standards, which, depending on the country, can be poor or, in the worst cases, non-existent. It’s about innovating to meet the demands of the public, who are increasingly calling for sustenance without the suffering that has become commonplace in so many industrial farming systems.

We’re proud that our work with Nestlé is having a tangible positive impact on animals. And we fully expect that the company will continue to innovate. After all, in 2014 the company, whose strapline is “Good Food, Good Life”, publicly committed to improving farm animal welfare across its global supply chains. At that time, the company’s Manager of Responsible Sourcing, Benjamin Ware, said: “We know that our consumers care about the welfare of farm animals and we…are committed to ensuring the highest possible levels of farm animal welfare across our global supply chain.”

Working through the complexities of large business

Like any successful relationship, our partnership with Nestlé is based on mutual respect and honesty. We understand that Nestlé is a complex, global business operating in a complex, global environment; change won’t happen overnight. And Nestlé understands that we are devoted to protecting all animals and ensuring that they have good lives.

This is how we approach all of our partnerships – we make it clear from the start that we are there to support but also to challenge, and, when success happens (as with Nestlé and its eggs in the United States), champion successes.

The animal movement is, quite rightly, a loud and passionate one, and not always known for its desire to partner with “big business”. I can understand why. For too long now, the corporate sector (as well as other sectors) has at times seemed blind to the need to include animal protection as a core business concern, instead moving at glacial speed to meet the minimum standards set by legislation. But we have a clear model for creating global change for animals, and that is to tackle the issue at a systemic level rather than trying to solve one piece of the puzzle. It’s why we work with businesses and other influential stakeholders who are as much a part of the solution as the challenge, if not more.

More support means bigger and better changes for farm animals

And our model for change has a not-so-secret weapon – you. We are all customers and ultimately food companies like Nestlé respond to our needs. Through making the right choices for animals and standing together for farm animals, we can work with food companies to secure a better future for farm animals around the world.  

Changing the world doesn’t come easily, but our work is improving the lives of millions of the world’s farm animals. And it’s not just chickens, we work to protect all animals in agriculture, – read more about how we are supporting 70 billion farm animals.

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