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Farm Animal Welfare

By February 2017
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Farm Animal Welfare

Why is Farm Animal Welfare an issue and what are the issues of concern?

Why is Farm Animal Welfare an issue and what are the issues of concern?

Worldwide about 70 billion farm animals are now produced every year for food. Two thirds of these are reared using intensive farming methods. Across agriculture animals and poultry are reared and slaughtered in conditions that have a material impact on the environment, biodiversity and on human health.

In the UK alone, DEFRA statistics show that in one month (December 2016), 224,000 heads of cattle, 1.3 million sheep, nearly 900,000 pigs and 75 million broiler hens were slaughtered for food. The use of animals is therefore a key issue for the food production, processing, retailing and hospitality sectors. Investors are beginning to take the issue of farm animal welfare far more seriously given the potential systemic risks in food safety and security.

Farm animal welfare principally concerns the conditions in which live, sentient creatures are reared, maintained and slaughtered. Issues include battery cages for laying hens (6.5 billion birds confined globally), selective poultry breeding leading to deformed birds, confining breeding sows to cramped stalls or crates, industrial milking that leaves cows diseased, lame and exhausted so that they are prematurely culled (50% of dairy cows in Europe become lame from over-milking each year), and the conditions in which veal calves are reared and slaughtered (6 million calves prematurely slaughtered and reared in ‘barren’ systems annually in the EU).

The transport of animals over long-distances also raises serious concerns from the perspective of welfare, distress and food quality. 

What Exactly is Factory Farming?

What Exactly is Factory Farming? Factory farming refers to a method of production in which animals are reared and slaughtered industrially. It involves close confinement (particularly prevalent in poultry mass production) using cages, crates and stalls that restricts movement and inhibits natural behaviour. In cattle it may mean little natural outdoors grazing, but instead intensive milk production based on mechanistic feeding and being kept in closely confined stalls.

Many of the worst practices lead to diseased and deformed animals entering the food chain, the prevalence of intensive antibiotic use, and acute distress suffered by the animals themselves. Ultimately, many of these practices have major implications for human health, food security and the possibility of life changing diseases being transferred to humans (such as BSE linked Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease). Farm animal welfare should therefore be seen as a potential systemic risk affecting the food industry, and by definition for investors in those companies.

Surely Farm Animal Welfare is Regulated?

Surely Farm Animal Welfare is Regulated?

Yes, but regulation is patchy and varied. There is no global legislation on the conditions in which animals can be reared and produced, although some voluntary guidance has been prepared by the World Organisation for Animal Heath (OIE). This amounts to an ‘international code’ in which participants are expected to adhere.  The OIE is a WTO affiliated body with 180 country members. The EU, the world’s largest importer of agricultural products, has enacted the most comprehensive body of legislative protection involving farm animals including an outright ban on the sale of meat and dairy products from cloned animals.

Key milestones in the EU include the banning of barren battery cages for laying hens from 2012, the prevention of sow stalls from 2013, the prevention of veal crates from 2007 and the requirement for pre-slaughter stunning from 2009.

The EU has issued a number of Directives relating to animal welfare, for instance the Laying Hens Directive; the Pigs Directive (part of which bans tail docking and routine castration); the Broilers Directive; the Calves Directive and the General Farm Animals Directive, which sets out the conditions whereby owners or keepers must ‘take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals…to ensure [they] are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury’.

Whilst the EU has taken robust action on farm animal welfare, this remains patchy elsewhere. In the US, there are Federal rules on slaughter, but it is left to individual States to legislate on the use of crates for instance. Many practices outlawed in the EU are specifically exempted in the US where animals are used in food production; only California has comprehensive rules encompassing practices such as tail docking, extreme confinement of hens and veal crates.

What is the Economic Impact of Livestock?

What is the Economic Impact of Livestock? Livestock contribute 40% of the global value of agricultural output and support the livelihoods and food security of 1.3 billion people. Moreover, grazing and land committed to feed account for almost 80% of all agricultural land use globally. In the UK, total livestock outputs (carcass prices) amounted to over £13bn, from a farming sector valued at £108bn in 2015.  The UK food and beverage sector is valued at over £100bn, with the food supply chain generating £177bn of consumer activity. The use of animals in the food manufacturing, processing, retail and hospitality sectors is of fundamental importance to the resilience and success of the sector overall. Investors represent an important constituency committing capital to those sectors.

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