In this Sept. 19, 2013, file photo, customers walk
outside of a Walmart store in San Jose, Calif. Walmart, the
nation's largest food retailer, is urging its thousands of
U.S. suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm
animals and improve treatment of them.
NEW YORK - Walmart’s push to get its
suppliers to give farm animals fewer antibiotics and
more room to roam is expected to have a big impact on
the food industry, experts say.
Though the steps are voluntary, Walmart, which
sells more food than any other store, has a history of using its
retail muscle to change the way products are made and sold
across the retail industry.
Walmart told The Associated Press that it’s
asking meat producers, eggs suppliers and others to use
antibiotics only for disease prevention or treatment, not to
fatten their animals, a common industry practice.
The guidelines also aim to get suppliers to stop
using pig gestation crates and other housing that doesn’t give
animals enough space. They’re also being asked to avoid painful
procedures like de-horning or castration without proper
Other major companies, including McDonald’s
Corp., Nestle and Starbucks Corp., have already pledged to
reduce or eliminate the use of gestation crates for pregnant
sows and otherwise improve animal treatment. But activists
hailed Walmart’s steps and said its guidelines would be one of
the most sweeping and could become the blueprint for the food
Concerns are growing that antibiotic overuse is
leading germs to develop resistance to the drugs, making
diseases more difficult to treat.
Shoppers are also driving changes. They want to
know more about where their food comes from and are choosing
foods they see as more healthy or natural.
Walmart said its own research showed 77 percent
of its shoppers said they will increase their trust and 66
percent will increase their likelihood to shop at a retailer
that improves the treatment of livestock.
Activists have reported animal abuse at farms
supplying Walmart and other major companies, launched petition
campaigns and staged protests at its stores.
Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of
Walmart’s sustainability division, said Walmart wants suppliers
to produce annual reports on antibiotic use and animal welfare
and post them on their own websites. It’s also pressuring
suppliers to report animal abuse to authorities and take
Animal activists groups praised the steps but
“This is a historic and landmark day for the
protection of farmed animals in America,” said Nathan Runkle,
president of Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group that has
pressed Walmart for change. “We urge Walmart to add greater
teeth to this announcement by making the new guidelines a
requirement rather than a mere recommendation and to set
Still, Walmart’s size - it accounts for 25
percent of the U.S. food business - gives it outsized influence
on its suppliers’ practices.
When Walmart asked its suppliers to reduce
packaging about a decade ago, it spurred innovations. Procter &
Gamble introduced tubes of Crest toothpaste that could be stood
upright on shelves without boxes.
“We think what’s needed is a fresh look at how we
can look at producing food. This is an industrywide change. It
won’t happen overnight,” Walmart’s McLaughlin said. “It’s about
Walmart said it has adopted the “five freedoms”
outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health to guide
its approach to animal welfare. They include freedom from pain
and injury and freedom to express normal behavior.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane
Society of the United States, called that “game-changing
progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining
farm animals is ending.”
Dr. Gail Hansen, a former practicing veterinarian
and a senior officer of Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic
resistance project, called Walmart’s move to curb the use of
antibiotics a “big deal.”
Walmart is asking its suppliers to keep accurate
records of antibiotic use and have vets make sure antibiotics
aren’t given strictly to fatten up animals.
“This will help us understand how antibiotics are
being used in food production,” Hansen said. Federal regulators
keep an overall tally of antibiotic use but don’t require
detailed recordkeeping, she said.
The guidelines apply to suppliers of both Walmart
and Sam’s Club stores.
Mercy for Animals has conducted six
investigations over the past few years on farms that supply pork
to Walmart. It found many instances of pigs being hit and
punched with metal cans, according to Ari Solomon, a spokesman
for the group.
The group leaked a video of mistreatment at an
Oklahoma hog farm in 2013. In that video, pigs were seen being
pummeled with sheets of wood, and pregnant sows were caged in
such small spaces they could barely move. After that, Tyson
Foods and Walmart terminated the contract with the supplier.
In July 2014, Walmart announced it was requiring
its fresh pork suppliers to have video monitoring for sow farms
and would be subject to unannounced animal welfare video audits
by a third party.
Walmart spokesman Kevin Gardner said that
requirement wasn’t in reaction to the video, but to “address the
industry topic in general.”
Tyson, one of the nation’s largest meat
producers, plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics in
its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017.
It’s also encouraging hog farmers to focus on the quality and
quantity of the space for sows when they remodel or build new
barns, though it hasn’t set a time frame.
steps among companies in animal welfare
Major animal-welfare moves announced by food and
retail companies since 2012:
- February 2012: McDonald’s Corp. requires its
U.S. pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out the use of sow
gestation stalls that limit movement.
- August 2014: Nestle says it wants to get rid of
the confinement of sows in gestation crates and egg-laying
chickens in cages. It also wants to eliminate the cutting of the
horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers.
It also pledges that it will work with its suppliers on the
responsible use of antibiotics.
- December 2014: Starbucks announces it support
for the responsible use of antibiotics, eliminating the use of
artificial growth hormones and wants to address concerns related
to dehorning and other forms of castration - with and without
- March 2015: McDonald’s says it is asking
chicken suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics over the next
- April 2015: Aramark, the largest U.S.
food-service company, says it’s eliminating all cages for laying
hens by 2020, gestation crates for mother pigs by 2017 and
crates for veal calves by 2017. Among other steps, the company
will be incorporating its animal welfare principles and policy
into contracts. It’s also requiring decisive action in
unforeseen cases of animal abuse or cruelty.
- April 2015: Tyson Foods says it plans to
eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans
in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017.
The company has also said it’s working on ways to curb use of
antibiotics for its beef and chicken businesses as well.
- May 2015: Walmart asks meat producers, eggs
suppliers and others to use antibiotics only for disease
prevention or treatment, not to fatten their animals. Among its
guidelines on animal welfare, it aims to get suppliers to stop
using sow gestation crates and other housing that doesn’t give
animals enough space. It also wants its suppliers to produce
annual reports on antibiotic use and their progress on animal
welfare and post the reports on their own websites. It’s also
pressuring suppliers to report animal abuse to authorities and
take disciplinary action.
- Associated Press