As the world's largest food retailer, Walmart often sets the standards for the supply chain. This has been cast in terms of lowering the bar for production standards as a means of lowering costs. Sometimes, however, as in this case, Walmart can also decide to raise the bar.
The announcement includes Walmart's support for the "globally recognized 'Five Freedoms' of animal welfare." For example, included in the announcement is a call to suppliers to "[f]ind and implement solutions to address animal welfare concerns in housing systems. . . "
The announcement also takes on the pervasive use of antimicrobials in livestock and poultry production. It supports the elimination of the "growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics" and calls for "limiting antimicrobial treatment to animals that are ill or at risk."
Admittedly, "at risk" can be interpreted to allow for much of the current use of antimicrobials in the livestock and poultry industries, as low levels of antibiotics are used to "prevent" disease in crowded conditions. It is a first step, however.
In sharp contrast to the "ag gag" laws in some states, the notice uses the term "transparency" seven times in the one page announcement.
This is the latest word from Walmart on its Commitment to a Sustainable Food System. Last October, Walmart announced this commitment, noting that food is its "biggest product category." It announced its four pillars of commitment:
1) Affordable: Continuing to reduce the “true cost” of food.
2) Accessible: Fighting hunger by providing for those in need.
3) Healthier: Making eating healthy easier.
4) Safe and Transparent: Showing consumers where food comes from.
It will be interesting to see how seriously Walmart takes these commitments, how much pressure they put on their livestock and poultry suppliers, and what timeframe they have in mind. Currently, many suppliers are a long way from these goals. But, they should be on notice.