Monthly Archives: March 2015

At Aldi, public health meets animal welfare

I have been arguing on The Conversation website that at Aldi – Aldi Süd in Germany to be exact – public health meets animal welfare:

Source: Flickr/Cyril Caton

Source: Flickr/Cyril Caton

German supermarket chain ups the ante on animal welfare

A German supermarket chain has introduced a wide-ranging supply-chain policy on animal welfare that may be the most progressive in the world. Sadly, Australia’s supermarket chains are far behind in introducing such measures, despite their positive impact on public health.

In early February 2015, Aldi Süd – one of the two family-owned Aldi supermarket chains in Germany – announced a new purchasing policy tied to animal welfare. In future, Aldi Süd’s customers won’t find foie gras (the production of which involves force-feeding ducks and geese), rabbit meat or lobster in its stores.

Suppliers have been asked to phase out beak trimming of hens. Labels on meat products are expected to be clear about country of origin, as well as indicating the region where the animal was raised.

A forward-looking policy

The policy extends to non-food items, such as textiles (no wool products involving mulesing are allowed, for instance), clothing, shoes (leather alternatives are preferred), cosmetics and cleaning products. Fur and products from protected species, such as crocodiles and snakes, will no longer be part of Aldi Süd’s product range.

And it also applies to processed food items. So pasta or noodles can contain only free-range, barn-laid or organic eggs, for instance, and the same holds for baked goods.

Seafood products caught in ways that avoid by-catch or protected animals are preferred. For farmed fish, Aldi Süd expects humane living conditions and reduced use of chemicals and antibiotics, if any are used at all.

In addition, the policy encourages suppliers to engage more broadly and proactively with animal welfare. For example, it suggests suppliers become engaged – together with other stakeholders – in the development of animal welfare standards, contribute to the development of non-animal research methods and avoid animal experimentation.

In its new policy document, Aldi Süd writes (author’s translation from the original German):

As a responsible company, it is important to us to bring together ecology, the social and economic developments while preserving the natural sources of life.

Supermarkets in Australia

Supermarket chains in Australia – including Aldi Australia – don’t go beyond compliance with industry and regulatory standards, and a patchy collection of additional animal welfare requirements.

Perhaps the strongest aspects of the major Australian supermarkets’ animal welfare policies relate to egg-laying chickens and marine animals. Since January 2013, Coles brand eggs are from cage-free chickens. Woolworths is planning to sell only non-cage-produced eggs and use non-cage eggs in its brand products by December 2018.

Source: Flickr/Steve Jurvetson

Source: Flickr/Steve Jurvetson

Major Australian supermarket chains (Aldi Australia, Coles, Metcash – the major supplier to IGA supermarkets – and Woolworths) all have policies in regard to seafood labelling or traceability, or both. And they all express a commitment to sustainable fishing.

In January 2013, Coles announced it had removed sow stall-produced pork from its Coles brand product range. Woolworths sources fresh pork meat from farms that only use stalls for less than 10% of the sows’ gestation period.

Used in factory farming, sow stalls are small barren crates in which female pigs are confined during pregnancy. These cages are so small that the pig can hardly move and can’t turn around.

Aldi Australia and Woolworths reject animal testing other than when it is legally required, but Coles and Metcash do not have policies on animal testing.

A public health issue

Intensive animal farming methods are now the most common way of producing meat and other animal products, such as eggs and milk. Confined living spaces, lack of natural light, food that is different from what animals traditionally ate (animal feed is designed to have the animal grow fast and increase the amount of food converted to protein) all contribute to stress in the animals, which affects their immune system.

Stressed animals are more prone to infections and they are treated with antibiotics when ill as well as to prevent disease. Antibiotics are also thought to speed up animal growth.

Widespread prophylactic and sub-therapeutic (small dose) use of antibiotics in food-producing animals has a negative impact on human health. It also leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can cause infections in humans. Importantly, this has made available antibiotics less effective in treating human diseases.

While the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals may contribute to keeping the prices of meat, seafood, dairy and egg products down, it’s clearly less than ideal for human health and animal welfare. For many consumers, animal welfare and environmental sustainability are also important ethical issues.

Aldi Süd should be commended for introducing an animal-welfare supply-chain policy that is more far-reaching than the policies of comparable Australian companies. While consumer pressure would have contributed to its development, preserving “the natural sources of life” is in everybody’s interest.


This article was published on 17 March 2015 on The Conversation website.

In addition, I have compiled a table comparing in more detail supermarkets’ animal welfare policies: Animal Welfare Supply Chain Policies (197 kb, pdf).

Of the companies mentioned in the article, Wesfarmers (which owns the Coles supermarkets), Metcash and Woolworths are listed on the ASX. IGA stores are individually owned and operated. Metcash are the major distributor of groceries to IGA stores. All IGA’s across Australia have come together to adopt their first Sustainability Policy. Aldi is a family-owned company. Aldi Süd is the parent company of Aldi Australia.

 

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Non-animal research in the media

090410_14bSince I last wrote about non-animal research methods in the media in early February, I’ve noticed the following news items relevant to the development of research methods in biomedicine that do not rely on animal testing:

New tests involving non-animal methods

European General Court backs shellfish test — Between 2005 and 2011, EU law required shellfish producers to inject mice with mollusk flesh extracts to detect and quantify the level of marine biotoxins in their catch. The European Commission officially phased out the use of mice to detect marine biotoxins at the end of 2014.

But shellfish producers in Galicia, Spain, argued that the commission’s order undermines public health and inconveniences the shellfish industry, and Spain lodged a complaint with the European General Court.

The Court dismissed Spain’s action last month, noting that EU food safety regulators have found that the continued use of mice to detect shellfish toxicity endangers public health more than the chemical tests do.

Source: Courthouse News Service and General Court of the European Union Press Release

Skin allergies — The European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) has validated and recommended a new method which is not based on animal testing, to identify chemicals that can trigger skin allergies, estimated to affect already 20% of the population in Europe.

Source: EurekAlert

090410_14cDevelopment, validation and promotion of alternative approaches by EU Member States

How do EU Member States facilitate the development, validation and promotion of alternative approaches at the national level? Links to documents that outline member states’ approaches are here.

090410_14aResearch grants

The Ministry of Rural Affairs and Consumer Protection of Baden-Württemberg in Germany is accepting applications for research funding to a total of € 400,000 and for the 3Rs prize for exceptional contributions to reducing or refining animal experiments in research or education, which carries prize money of € 25,000. Deadline: 30 April 2015

Source: AltTox.org and Ministerium für Ländlichen Raum und Verbraucherschutz Baden-Württemberg

CRACK IT is the NC3Rs response to the changing environment in the biosciences. The aim is to accelerate the availability of technologies which will deliver measurable 3Rs impacts, new marketable products and more efficient business processes.

Nine research and development consortia have been awarded up to £100,000 each, as part of the CRACK IT Challenge competition, to carry out initial work to develop innovative technology solutions that will impact on the replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research (3Rs). Details about the grants are on the CRACK IT website.

090410_14New research collaboration

Cosmetics Europe Research Consortium for the further development of Alternatives to Animal Testing (AAT) — The objective of the Long Range Science Strategy (LRSS) collaboration is to finance, steer and promote the successful development of AAT-based test methods and approaches for safety assessment and to facilitate their regulatory acceptance.

The toxicological endpoints that will be covered by the Consortium include the areas of skin sensitisation, eye irritation, genotoxicity, systemic toxicity and skin absorption and metabolism.

Source: Cosmetics Europe

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PS — The images in this post are my own creation.