At Bon Appétit, we believe that to be sustainable, the U.S. food system requires major, continuing improvements in how the animals we eat are raised.
The vast majority of farm animals are crowded together in confined spaces, routinely given antibiotics, and fattened as fast as can be managed. Few are truly permitted to enjoy the Five Freedoms of animal welfare that are under human control. Developed in England in the 1960s and formalized around 1979, they are often referenced as the acceptable baseline for creating animal welfare standards. The first is “Freedom from hunger or thirst’; the second is “Freedom from discomfort”; the third, “Freedom from pain, injury or disease.” Sounds simple, yes? Yet they are ignored by the vast majority of the industry, particularly Nos. 4 and 5: “Freedom to express (most) normal behavior, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind,” and “Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.”
“Bon Appétit Management Company has been leading the way on animal welfare issues within the food industry since its inception. Whether it’s sourcing from higher welfare suppliers, endorsing legislation tackling animal cruelty, or offering more plant-based meals, the company sets a very high bar for social responsibility.”
—Josh Balk, senior director of food policy for The Humane Society of United States
Through our purchasing relationships, Bon Appétit Management Company is taking aim at many of the standard practices that violate these freedoms.
Our philosophy when it comes to animal products is three-tiered: We believe in supporting small farms, rewarding responsible mid-size ones, and using our market power to influence the big producers to improve their practices.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
We’ve led the food service industry in making the following commitments (see our timeline):
Dairy: In 2003 we switched to milk and yogurt from producers who do not use artificial hormones (rBGH or rBST).*
Goals set in March 2016: We agree with the dairy industry’s own decision to phase out the cruel practice of tail docking of dairy cows and are asking all of our suppliers to do so immediately, as well as to cease dehorning without pain management by 2026, or sooner if there are breakthroughs on resolving these issues (such as using polled genetics so that cattle are born without horns).
Poultry: Starting in 2003, we required that our chicken and turkey come from animals not given routine, nontherapeutic antibiotics.* (Read more about our antibiotics policies.)
Goals set in March 2016: We intend to increase our purchases from producers who use breeds of chicken known as “slow-growing” (genetic potential growth rate equal to or less than 50 grams per day averaged over the growth cycle). We are also asking our producers to offer enriched environments (such as perches, straw bales, and pecking objects) by 2026. Such simple additions can go a long way to ensuring Freedom #4. We are also asking them to lower maximum stocking density equal to or less than 6 pounds per square foot, and to replace practices such as live dumping and shackling with pre-slaughter stunning by 2026, or sooner if there are breakthroughs on resolving these issues.
Eggs: In 2005 we switched to Certified Humane cage-free shell eggs.* Battery cages are not permitted, and the housing facilities must include areas for hens to nest, dust bathe, scratch, and perch. We are currently completing the switch to Certified Humane cage-free precracked/liquid eggs.*
Foie gras and crate-raised veal: Banned since 2012.
Ground beef: In 2007 we committed to sourcing our ground beef from cows raised without antibiotics ever (sick animals are treated and sold elsewhere), added growth hormones, or animal byproducts in their feed.* In 2012 we broadened that companywide ground-beef requirement to include certification from Humane Farm Animal Care.*
Goals set in March 2016: We are considering a revised antibiotics policy for all our contracted beef, not just ground. As with dairy, we are asking all of our suppliers to cease dehorning without pain management by 2026, or sooner if there are breakthroughs on resolving these issues (such as using polled genetics so that cattle are born without horns).
Pork: In late 2015 we switched our contracted pork to a producer that ensures sows live in group housing, not inhumane gestation crates, for most of their pregnancies.*
Starting in 2016: This pork also comes from animals never given antibiotics (sick animals are treated and sold elsewhere) or ractopamine, a common growth promoter with animal-welfare side effects that has been banned in most countries. Our new supplier is also testing more humane farrowing (birth and post-natal) practices, such as allowing the sows to turn around. It long ago did away with “thumping,” the practice in which sick or injured piglets are killed by slamming their skulls into the ground. We would like to see enriched environments for all pigs as well as tail docking and castration either phased out and performed with pain management by 2026, or sooner if there are breakthroughs on resolving these issues.
“This sets the bar for animal welfare for major food service providers.”
— Mark Bittman, writing in the New York Times in 2012
Plant-based protein alternatives: For decades, Bon Appétit has been committed to serving plentiful vegetarian/vegan options at every meal. In 2014 we partnered with Hampton Creek to offer eggless cookies and in 2015 switched our contracted mayonnaise to Hampton Creek’s eggless Just Mayo. We are actively exploring partnerships with other innovative suppliers of plant-based protein alternatives.
As of late 2015: As part of our Low Carbon Lifestyle (launched as the Low Carbon Diet in 2007 and updated in 2015), we’ve set aggressive targets for ounces-of-meat per guest per meal. We are actively tracking these numbers as well as our percentage of vegetarian options at our individual locations through the Food Standards Dashboard, so chefs can see at a glance whether their menus are both balanced and meeting the company’s goals.
We also continue to work on ensuring that 25% or more of our total meat, poultry, and egg purchases come from producers whose practices have been certified by the independent animal-welfare monitors Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), Food Alliance, Animal Welfare Approved, or Global Animal Partnership.
The meat, egg, and dairy industries are by nature slow moving, whether for ending abuses that could be eliminated in the near term, or for infrastructure changes that require time and capital to overhaul their physical facilities as well as to breed animals that can tolerate and thrive in the new environments (such as group housing for sows). By listing which current standard practices violate the Five Freedoms and setting a time frame for our suppliers to phase them out, we hope to send a clear message: We expect the industry to keep moving toward more humane treatment of farm animals in this country. Our goals remain ambitious ones, but we will continue to be transparent about what we achieve and if necessary, why we fall short of our targets. We believe that commitments are meaningless without accountability.
*We are proud to be the first food service company to have made this commitment.