How do we decide what to eat every day? Most of us would probably say that we consider our health when we’re selecting food. But our food choices are also influenced by how much time and money we have, as well as intangibles like our cultural heritage and emotions.
Increasingly, ethics are also influencing which foods we choose to eat. Many of us want to know that the food we buy was grown or raised in a way that minimizes harm to people, animals and the environment. Especially if we choose to eat animals, we want to know that those animals were raised in an ethical and responsible way.
We learned as children that “you are what you eat.” That idiom is about health, but it is becoming true of all aspects of the food we eat. Just as we eat certain dishes to celebrate our cultural identities, eating ethically raised food is an expression of our personal morals and ethics.
The movement toward ethically raised food is a reaction to certain farming practices that sought to reduce costs at the expense of animal welfare. One example of this is the treatment of egg-laying hens. Many large-scale operations chose to keep hens in small cages. This strategy meant producers could fit more hens into their space—and more hens meant more eggs to sell. But it didn’t take into consideration the welfare of the animals.
Today, many feel the practice is unethical. Our organization is among them: Sodexo currently sources all shelled eggs from cage-free producers, and we’re on track to source all other egg products (such as liquid egg whites) from cage-free producers by 2020. And we’re making other changes to improve animal welfare, including requiring that pregnant sows have open housing, rather than being confined.
Although companies like Sodexo don’t grow or raise the food we serve, we have a responsibility to choose suppliers who treat animals well.
Sourcing ethically raised food can be challenging for food-service companies, which today often purchase from hundreds of different suppliers across the country. Ensuring animal welfare requires vigilance at all levels of the supply chain. In addition, ethical sourcing can mean extra cost. After switching to cage-free eggs, Sodexo found that there is a 60 to 70 percent cost increase on the raw materials. However, the benefits of cage-free far outweigh the costs, as they do for many other animal welfare initiatives. Here are three additional benefits for organizations that prioritize animal welfare:
- It’s good for your organization: Organizations today rise and fall on authenticity. The ethics of your organization influence every part of it—from employee satisfaction to organizational credibility. Taking an ethical stand for animal welfare with strengthen your entire organization.
- It’s good for the environment: Many practices that are bad for animal welfare are also bad for the environment. “Confined farm animals in the United State produce three times more waste than people,” according to the Humane Society.
- It’s just good business: Customers care about where their meat comes from and how animals were treated. If you’re going to give customers what they want, it should include ethically and sustainably raised products.
How does your organization approach animal welfare issues? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.