Supermarket News : Spotlight on Animal Care Reflects Consumer Concerns
After all, Americans already have shown they'll pay more for organically grown products, free-range meat and poultry, and "green label" flowers certifiably produced by socially and environmentally responsible growers.
Many are willing to spend more, too, if they can be convinced - by some type of certification that makes the supplier accountable - that the pork chops, steak or chicken wings they're eating come from animals that have lived a life free of suffering.
"People want to know that animals are treated humanely," said Adele Douglass, executive director of Humane Farm Animal Care here, a nonprofit agency funded by producers and animal welfare organizations, among others. "they want to eat meat, poultry and dairy products with a good conscience.
"When they're buying Certified Humane products, they are voting with their pocketbooks," she said.
Research conducted last year for Organic Valley showed 51% of respondents said they'd be willing to pay a premium for foods produced following standards for humane treatment of animals, Douglass said.
Other surveys showed a majority of consumers would choose products certified as protecting animal care over those that did not have certification.
In an online poll conducted by HFAC last fall, most respondents said they would like to find such products in their mainstream supermarkets, Douglass added.
Indeed, more and more supermarket chains, including Kroger, Publix, A&P, Wegmans and D'Agostino Supermarkets carry Certified Humane meat and poultry.
"Certified Humane endorsement is another important selling point for the product (Murray's all-natural chicken)," said Mary Moore, spokeswoman for 22- unit, Larchmont, NY- based D'Agostino, in an earlier interview with SN.
"That [Certified Humane] label on the package sends an important message, since our customers are increasingly concerned about not only the quality and taste of products, but also about how the animals are raised," Moore said.
To date, 25 producers, including Murray's Chicken, Maverick Ranch Natural Pork and recently, Jamison Farms and Against the Wind Ranch have been certified by HFAC. The agency's "Certified Humane Raised and Handled label, unveiled in May 2003, assures consumers that a meat, poultry, egg or dairy product has been produced according to HFAC's precise standards for humane farm animal treatment.
Producers authorized to use that label must meet HFAC's Animal Care Standards, with compliance annually verified by on-site inspections by HFAC veterinarians and animal scientists. Inspections from birth through slaughter are conducted annually by third party auditors.
Meanwhile, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, announced plans to launch the Animal Compassion Foundation, with the company chipping in 5% of one day's sales as seed money.
The natural foods chain also announced the appointment of Anne Malleau as executive director of the foundation. Malleau has a background in animal science, agribusiness and animal welfare.
The foundation, Whole Foods said, was designed "to help meat producers achieve a higher standard of animal welfare excellence, while still maintaining economic viability."
In a statement, the chain said, "the foundation will search the planet for innovative ranchers and farmers who raise their animals with the well-being of the animal, rather than the producer's productivity as the primary goal."
The statement outlined other objectives, including collecting and compiling global knowledge of compassionate methods of humane animal treatment, and providing research money to animal scientists at universities.
A Whole foods spokeswoman in Austin, Texas told SN the foundation's standards "are still being worked out."
Whole Foods initiative was endorsed by HFAC's Douglass, in a statement in which she noted the effort is another indication that "humane treatment of farm animals is an emerging consumer issue."
The effort calls attention to the need for a standard in the treatment of farm animals like HFAC's Certified Humane standard, Douglass said.