Walmart, the nation’s largest food seller, has asked its meat and egg suppliers to decrease their use of antibiotics in livestock feed and provide more humane living conditions for its animals, including the elimination of controversial gestation crates used to confine pregnant and nursing sows.
The news comes after several recent undercover animal welfare investigations discovered rampant mistreatment of animals in some of Walmart’s largest suppliers’ facilities.
Earlier this month, the animal welfare group Mercy for Animals released video footage of pigs being beaten by farm workers at a Walmart supplier facility. The group has released six undercover investigations in recent years, all calling out egregious animal mistreatment at Walmart facilities. While Walmart said the decisions weren’t based on the videos, Mercy for Animals and other animal welfare groups see this move as a victory for livestock animals in the U.S., considering how much influence the retail giant has over the supply chain.
"This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America,” Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals said in a statement. “The announcement that Walmart is committed to doing away with many of the cruelest factory farming practices in its supply chain, including the intensive confinement of pigs and other animals, signals an important new era and direction for the company. We are heartened that Walmart not only took notice, but also took action, after egregious cruelty was exposed in its pork supply chain.”
According to Mercy for Animals, the use of gestation crates “is one of the worst forms of institutionalized animal abuse in existence.”
Walmart has also asked its suppliers to stop cruel practices including dehorning and castration, procedures typically done without any type of anesthetic.
“By speaking out against cruel crates, painful mutilations, and horrific killing methods, Walmart is taking a positive step forward in improving animal welfare,” Runkle said. “We hope Walmart acts quickly and diligently to implement these changes in order to spare millions of animals needless misery and suffering.”
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According to Walmart, its own research points to overwhelming consumer support and interest in animal welfare. The chain reported 77 percent of its shoppers said improved livestock conditions would increase trust with the retailer, and 66 percent said it would increase their likelihood for shopping at Walmart stores.
Walmart's influence has led to redefined industry standards in other areas, and animal rights groups hope this will usher in a turning point for other retailers. "We hope that the rest of the food industry will follow Walmart's lead in prohibiting the cruel confinement of animals in cages barely larger than their bodies, mutilations without painkillers, and other inhumane practices," said Runkle.
Tyson Foods, one of Walmart's largest suppliers, has already announced plans to remove all non-medically necessary human antibiotics from its livestock feed. Perdue also announced a similar move away from antibiotics in its chicken hatcheries, while McDonald's has announced it will be phasing out antibiotics from its chicken products.
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