This story is going viral, Travelwrite, where the story broke, receives over 2000 hits a day, people are banding together to form groups to source ethically produced dairy. Below is our response to Woolworths.
Background to the story here.
Letters of outrage from Woolworths customers can be viewed here, and are still pouring in.
Follow us on twitter: @GrassAction
Greetings Woolworths Dairy Team
You state: Animal welfare Woolworths cares deeply about the welfare of animals. We have pioneered many animal welfare practices in the retail sector such as badger friendly honey and free range eggs. While we have made progress we believe there is a lot more that we can do to continue to protect the welfare of farm animals. Apart from our animal welfare policy, Woolworths has strict standards for the production of milk that is independently audited.
Grass questioned Philip Lymbery (Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming – CIWF) about the wisdom and motivation of “The Good Egg Award” bestowed by CIWF on Woolworths. It has taken Woolworths 10 years to partially (70%?) achieve a statement they made in April 2004 committing to only selling free-range eggs in their stores.
“From now on, no Woolworths laying hen will ever have lived or spent any of her life in a cage,” Woolworths CEO, Simon Susman, proclaimed at the time. The news was announced in stores with big signs that read: “Free as a bird. We are the first retailer in South Africa to sell only free-range eggs. We think our hens enjoy having space to behave like hens should.”
Grass has also made it clear to CIWF that awards such as these also deceive the consumer into believing that the battle for ethical farming has been won and this is unfair to Conscious Consumers who are seeking to make truly ethical informed choices.
If Woolworths is truly serious about animal welfare then they should not label their whole eggs or the eggs used in prepared foods as free range and instead label them accurately as barn raised or cage free. This would enable Conscious Consumers to be aware of the difference in farming practices, especially in light of the fact that there is no free range legislation in South Africa.
Grass also questions the increase use of palm oil in Woolworth’s products and if this is indeed all from sustainable sources? Woolworths made a commitment to reduce the use of palm oil but instead the use has increased. The destruction of the rainforests by palm oil companies is continuing unabated — they are literally burning down the forests, killing everything in them. It’s ecocide on a grand scale. Could Woolworths therefore please supply some verifiable information on their sustainable use of palm oil?
You state: Open barns and pastures Some dairy cows are housed in open barns while others are kept in pastures. Cows housed in open barns are fed a grain-based diet. The choice of open barns or pastures depends on the location of the farm. Depending on where they are, farms experience varying climate conditions, rainfall and quality of vegetation. Our milk suppliers are located around the country close to our stores and customers to ensure that our milk is fresh.
Your customers have been entitled to this information for a number of years, so Grass is pleased to see that you have finally been forced to come clean on your ‘free to roam’ marketing statements and images. Consumers should also be notified that the grain-based diet includes GMO feed.
Grass questions the reason given for farms to be located in areas that are not ideal for the animals due to heat but Woolworths maintains that this is to ensure that your milk is fresh. Could you please expand on this explanation since refrigerated trucks have been used in the past?
You have not made any reference to the organic milk farm conditions or the supplier. Concerned Consumers are demanding more information about these farms.
You state: Dehorning Calves are playful animals with a specific social and hierarchical structure. This causes them to play and compete for position that often results in injury. When injured, medicinal treatment will have to be administered, making the milk unfit for human consumption. Injury causes stress to cows and could result in compromised quality and a loss of volume. To prevent any potential injury, the calves are dehorned at the earliest possible age, under local anesthetic and proper supervision.
A veterinarian needs to be present to oversee administration of anesthetic. How can Woolworths guarantee that anesthetic is administered in all dehorning procedures? Do you have documentation showing this?
Grass is aware of CIWF collaborating with Woolworths to develop the set of “Milking for the Future” standards, are CIWF therefore onboard with dehorning? To ensure that this is a genuine policy for improving dairy standards, rather than a marketing ploy, Grass requests that Conscious Consumers are able to provide input to develop the standards.
Please also see the below statement by CIWF on dehorning, along with further statements by Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which speak for themselves on this issue.
“Both disbudding and dehorning are painful procedures. Both require restraint, which is itself stressful. Both could be avoided. The risk of cattle injuring each other is much greater when they are housed intensively indoors. Compassion in World Farming Trust believes that the move towards intensification should be reversed as animals reared free-range are less likely to damage each other with their horns.
Some experts believe that where horns present a danger, a possible solution lies in using polled (i.e. without horns) breeds of cattle and/or by introducing polledness into the animals breeding, i.e. by breeding from hornless strains. This is clearly a much more humane approach than subjecting cattle to disbudding or dehorning.”
“Benefits of Disbudding and Dehorning
Dehorning cattle conveys advantages. Horns are the single major cause of carcass wastage due to bruising, and trim associated with bruising for carcasses from horned cattle is approximately twice that for carcasses from hornless cattle. Dehorned cattle require less feeding trough space; are easier and less dangerous to handle and transport; present a lower risk of interference from dominant animals at feeding time; pose a reduced risk of injury to udders, flanks, and eyes of other cattle; present a lower injury risk for handlers, horses, and dogs; exhibit fewer aggressive behaviors associated with individual dominance; and may incur fewer financial penalties on sale.”
Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Gateway to Farm Animal Welfare
Welfare Implications of the Dehorning and Disbudding of Cattle
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK states :
“Dehorning should not be a routine procedure. Under The Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act 1954,
as amended, it is an offence to disbud calves or dehorn any cattle without the use of an anaesthetic other
than when chemical cauterisation is used. Chemical cauterisation may only be used during the first week oflife. (see below for whole section).
You state: Labels The labels referred to in the blog are old.
Is Woolworths implying that at one stage the cows were pasture raised and therefore the label depicted that scenario? Why did these circumstances change? So for reasons (as you stated to ensure fresh milk perhaps?) Woolworths chose to change to farms that did not offer pasture grazing? So “Farming for the Future” took a step backwards?
You state: However, in principle, food labels are regulated and we have to careful to balance marketing and the regulatory framework. We change our packaging regularly, for a number of reasons:
In response to customer feedback.
New creative direction on the Woolworths brand.
Changes to sourcing, producers and production requirements.
Grass therefore once again asks you why you do not accurately and lawfully label your products that contain more than 5% GMO. Woolworths is aware that Grass has formally laid a complaint, on 30 October 2013, with the National Consumer Commission requesting that Woolworths comply with the GMO labeling law and correctly label their products that contain 5% or more GMO content. Grass has also asked for a formal apology to Woolworth’s customers for not complying with the GMO labeling law and the Consumer Protection Act thereby misinforming their customers with the misleading label of “may contain GMO”.
It has also come to our attention that Woolworths has been directed by government to remove certain label claims from various products due to years of consumer pressure; such as the removal of rBST free on dairy products and the word ‘fresh cream’ from various processed products.