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Making the grade on animal ag report cards

Originally published on

Harken back to the school days when you eagerly (or not) awaited your semester’s-end report card. The evaluation for your efforts was either a great source of pride or paralyzing anxiety. Now imagine receiving a report card for a course you didn’t register for or attend. “Wait a minute. I didn’t sign up for this!”

That’s what’s happening to food companies, retailers and restaurants today when advocacy groups looking to drive change publicly release their animal welfare or social responsibility “grades” as a tool to compel the food system to sign up for and participate in their “class.”

Two such assessments, which encourage investors to pay close attention to farm animal welfare or antibiotic use in their investment approaches, are the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) led by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection, and the Coller FAIRR animal welfare and antibiotics indexes.

Criteria include areas such as animal housing (use of sow stalls, farrowing crates, etc.), the use of genetically modified or cloned animals, policies on antibiotic stewardship, the level of commitment to policies, use of third-party audits, use of procedures like tail docking and beak trimming, and processes for long-distance live transportation. FAIRR also includes an investor engagement rating.

Measurement is certainly nothing new. In fact, it’s necessary. Every farm, packer, retail food store and restaurant measures performance on a number of metrics every day – we manage what we measure and setting goals and measuring against them are critical to long-term success.

But as advocacy groups, consumers and food system stakeholders take greater interest in how animal protein impacts people, animals and the planet, we can expect more interest in measurement and verification. It’s the new reality. And your future depends on it.

Measurement can seem daunting, but consider an approach that puts you in the driver’s seat.

  1. Create or participate in measurement that is aligned with your company values and measures what’s important to you. (Several programs are available.)
  2.  Be prepared to explain why you’ve chosen some metrics and not others, or why you’ve chosen to participate in certain measurement programs.
  3. Make your standards and outcomes public and easily accessible. Transparency is key to earning trust.

School is in session and performance is being measured.  Are you making the grade?

Maybe you aren’t where you want to be in some areas. That’s OK. People don’t expect perfection. What they want to see is that you care about animal well-being and are committed to continuous improvement.

These steps allow you to communicate your values and define the narrative rather than being defined by someone else’s.

At the end of the day, you’ll have a greater sense of pride – and less anxiety – if your report card is a more accurate reflection of your goals and accomplishments.

By Charlie Arnot
CEO, Center for Food Integrity