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animal welfare and ESG

Animal welfare is a key ESG theme

Many financial institutions recognize that long-term value creation ties to sustainability. To achieve this, institutions are creating and enhancing environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives.

 

Animal welfare aligns with many facets of ESG and should be included in broader sustainability goals of companies and the financial institutions that support them.

environmental
  • Environmental impacts and regulations affect the animal agriculture market as a whole (indirectly affecting animal welfare)

social
  • Increasing consumer demand for higher welfare products and locally-sourced products

  • Global health pandemics and public concerns about food safety

  • Moral considerations – higher welfare is the “right thing to do”

  • Workforce health, safety and training​

governance
  • Failure to properly assess and manage animal welfare means not acting in the best interest of investors and shareholders

  • Failure to report and monitor animal welfare signals poor traceability and management

Reporting standards include animal welfare

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released an update to its Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct, in June 2023. For the first time, animal welfare was included in its Guidelines, urging businesses to uphold animal welfare in their policies and practices. 

 

"Enterprises should respect animal welfare standards that are aligned with the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Terrestrial Code. An animal experiences good welfare if the animal is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress, and is able to express behaviours that are important for its physical and mental state. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and appropriate veterinary care, shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling and humane slaughter or killing. In addition, enterprises should adhere to guidance for the transport of live animals developed by relevant international organisations."

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

The newest Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sector standard for Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing was released in 2022. This sector standard includes animal welfare as a material sustainability topic and recommends several reporting line items related to animal welfare (including the use of cages and crates).

 

"Animal health and welfare refers to an animal's physical and mental state in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies. The ‘Five Freedoms’ of animal welfare are freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.

 

... Animal health and welfare is crucial because it concerns productivity, the safety of animal-derived products, and the humane treatment of animals."

International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB)

SASB Sector Standards

The International Accounting Standards Board's (ISSB's) sector standard for Meat, Poultry and Dairy, as well as Restaurants, include animal welfare as a material sustainability topic, and therefore, recommend reporting related to animal welfare. Both standards specifically mention cages for egg-laying hens and crates for gestating sows and recommend disclosures related to both.

 

“Consumer demand has driven shifts in industry practices, such as eliminating the use of gestation crates in hog production and eliminating caged enclosures for poultry. Companies that are prepared to anticipate or adapt to these trends may be able to increase their market share by capturing this changing demand and being first to market with products that comply with new regulations."

The SDGs

Animal welfare and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by the members of the United Nations in 2015. They state: “We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world on to a sustainable and resilient path." Care for animal welfare helps to achieve benefits for all the pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social.

The 2030 Agenda envisages a development model “in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and … other living species are protected.” The SDGs recognize that the welfare of people depends on the welfare of ecosystems, and animals are a critical part of our global ecosystem.

The overuse of antibiotics in many intensive farming systems is driving antimicrobial resistance, which poses a further threat to the attainment of the SDGs. The UN Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance has stated that the SDGs cannot be achieved if antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is not addressed with greater urgency

 

Unless we make significant changes, industrial animal agriculture will make it very difficult to meet the following SDGs:

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Frontiers in Veterinary Science's paper - "Animal welfare and the Sustainable Development Goals"

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