Animal husbandry is a key branch of agricultural production. Animal-based products like meat and eggs are fixed parts of our diets as well. The ongoing public discussion about the issue of animal welfare also demonstrates that consumers are placing an increasingly high priority on proper care of farm animals.
In its Guideline for Sustainable Business Practises, REWE Group commits itself to following and improving animal protection standards. It carries out this commitment as part of its sustainability strategy. The company has been working for years to improve animal welfare, health and protection. As part of this effort, REWE Group develops programmes that are designed with specific animal breeds in mind and that take the conditions of the various value chains into consideration.
The programmes are carried out in PRO PLANET projects, among other places. In one such project, the feeding and husbandry conditions for chicken and laying hens were improved. The company’s work also focuses on the production of pork, turkey and rabbit meat as well as fresh milk. A key focus of the company’s commitment to animal welfare is painful procedures performed on animals, including the castration of piglets and the trimming of laying hens’ beaks. REWE Group has set challenging goals related to ending such practises. As it carries out its programmes, REWE Group conducts an intense dialogue with relevant stakeholders, like suppliers, scientists and NGOs.
In 2017, the “Strategy Green Products 2030” was developed for REWE and PENNY in Germany, with three areas of action defined (see the Management Approach Green Products). Animal welfare was determined as one of these areas of action.
As a charter member of the Animal Welfare Initiative, REWE Group also works to improve industry-wide animal welfare standards. This alliance of representatives from farming, the meat-packing industry and food retail is striving to create a more animal-conscious form of meat production. Participating companies from the German food retail sector donate four cents (6.25 cents beginning on 1 January 2018) to the Animal Welfare Initiative for each kilogram of pork and poultry they sell. These contributions generate about 85 million euros annually (135 million euros from 2018). The money is available to finance animal-welfare measures that extend beyond legal requirements. As a result of the participation of more than 3,000 farms, husbandry conditions for more than 255 million pigs, chickens and turkeys were improved in 2017. With the start of the programme phase beginning in 2018, the initiative’s plans call for financial resources to be increased to enable more farms to take part.
In 2015, REWE Group released its Mission Statement on Animal Husbandry of the Future, a position paper that describes the overarching objectives of REWE Group in terms of more sustainable animal husbandry. The mission statement outlines the range of requirements that sustainable agriculture must address. In addition to animal welfare, these requirements comprise environmental and climate protection, resource efficiency, food safety and profitability. As part of this mission statement, REWE Group formulated a canon of values for its commitment to animal welfare. This canon is based on the “Five Freedoms” of responsible animal husbandry that were defined by the Farm Animal Welfare Council of the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
The mission statement is designed to promote the enhancement of ongoing projects and requirements. As part of this work, the company plans to issue guidelines about specific husbandry and management systems that include corresponding requirements.
The complete mission statement can be downloaded here.
In December 2016, REWE International AG issued its own animal welfare guideline that outlines key measures and areas of action for Austria.
In addition, Germany and all other countries that serve as potential suppliers for animal source raw materials have developed regulations governing livestock-management practices. REWE Group only adds those partners who completely fulfil their home country’s regulations to the company’s supply chain.
As a responsible tour operator that is committed to sustainable activities, DER Touristik has made the protection of nature and animals a high priority. In many holiday destinations, interaction with animals is part of local entertainment activities. Often, however, the animals suffer from poor living conditions or handling that is not appropriate to the species. The impact of such activities may not be obvious at first glance for tourists.
DER Touristik believes that animal-friendly tourism is possible. Such practises include protecting animals from abuse, preserving natural habitats and ensuring species-correct husbandry activities if necessary. For this reason, the company primarily supports travel experiences that focus on watching wild animals in their natural habitat.
In order to ensure that its own products meet the demand for animal-friendly offers, DER Touristik adopted a binding animal protection guideline in 2017. This company guideline governs the approach to tourism products that include interaction with animals. Its goal is to check and gradually adapt all offerings of DER Touristik in which animals are used to entertain tourists by 2020. Products that do not comply with DER Touristik’s animal protection guideline will be removed from the programme or, where possible, replaced with animal-friendly alternatives. To ensure that the defined animal protection criteria and recognised standards are applied, the animal sites will undergo independent audits. Eight audits were conducted during the reporting period – five in elephant camps and three in zoos. Ten audits are planned for 2018.
In 2017, implementation of the guideline initially started with a focus on elephants. Solutions for recreational activities with elephants were worked on in collaboration with the combine’s own destination agency Go Vacation Thailand. In a first step, DER Touristik checked providers for compliance with animal protection standards through external audits. Activities such as elephant rides or entertainment shows have been removed from the programme. Today, DER Touristik collaborates with a few local providers, working with them to improve standards and make them more aware of the issues at play.
In addition, DER Touristik is working together with the animal protection group World Animal Protection and other industry participants in the “Proving Demand” working group that developed a business model for building elephant-friendly sites. The plan for 2018 is to develop two elephant sites according to standards and to increase the demand for elephant-friendly touristic sites.
In 2018, the focus will be on sites and offerings involving marine mammals.
DER Touristik has also pledged to inform customers about the appropriate way to deal with animals and about animal-friendly tourism opportunities.
In the area of animal welfare, REWE Group is taking a number of steps that are based on the individual species and the conditions of farm animal husbandry. The following section explores a few selected projects involved in this work.
Boars, or non-castrated pigs, can develop a foul odour that permeates the meat after the animals reach sexual maturity. For this reason, male piglets are castrated about seven days after birth, usually without anaesthesia. With the goal of selling only fresh pork that comes from pigs that were castrated with anaesthesia beginning in 2017, REWE Group has set an example and thus contributed to the development of the industry. Politicians have made it illegal to castrate piglets without anaesthesia as of 1 January 2019.
In conventional animal husbandry, the tails of most piglets are docked, or trimmed, within four days after birth. This step is taken to prevent pigs from biting one another’s tails. Such actions can occur when pigs are subjected to intense stress. If the ring tail is not docked and remains intact during the animal’s life, this can be used as an indicator of humane husbandry conditions.
Following the first phase in 2016, REWE Group continued to work closely in 2017 with both farmer associations in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the State Ministry of Agriculture and the State Chamber of Agriculture to conduct a lighthouse project on the topic of ring tails. About 60 pig farms took part in it. During the project, the farms did not trim the ring tails. Instead, they altered husbandry conditions by providing pigs with rooting earth, hay or straw as well as open drinking sources. This approach provided additional activity opportunities and helped to improve the animals’ health. Observation of the animals was increased, and their feed was modified as well. As compensation for their work, the farmers were paid 18 euros per animal and a one-time payment of 500 euros for more extensive examinations or special consultations.
The husbandry conditions of caged laying hens are unacceptable to REWE Group. Ever since 2010, REWE Group in Germany has been selling eggs from free-run and free-range hens that meet the requirements of the German Association for Controlled Alternative Husbandry Methods (KAT). In 2012, the decision was taken to ban the use of eggs from caged hens and small groups also in processed products. By 2025 at the latest, all international companies in trade should have stopped using eggs from caged hens. In 2016, REWE Group was honoured with the Good Egg Award of the animal protection organisation Compassion in World Farming for the company’s early decision to drop eggs from caged hens from its assortment.
Until the beginning of 2017, conventionally run farms generally trimmed the beaks of laying hens as a way to prevent the animals from picking at and injuring one another. REWE Group has set the goal of becoming the first trade company in Germany to stop selling conventional store-brand eggs from laying hens with trimmed beaks in all stores of the REWE and PENNY sales lines by 31 December 2017. The goal was achieved ahead of schedule on 1 September 2017. In doing so, REWE Group is fulfilling an agreement of poultry farming associations and the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture. This agreement calls for such sales to end by mid-2018. Organic eggs are exempt from this requirement because farms have to reject the practise of beak trimming in order to qualify for organic certification.
In a pilot project, REWE Group has stopped not only beak trimming, but also the slaughter of male chicks. Under the exclusive brand “Spitz & Bube”, the free-range eggs have been on sale throughout Germany in all participating stores since July 2017. Thanks to the great success of the project, “Spitz & Bube” fresh free-run eggs will also be available nationwide from March 2018. Fresh eggs under the “Spitz & Bube” brand, which are produced according to organic guidelines, are currently available in Bavarian REWE stores.
At the beginning of 2017, PENNY became the first discounter in Germany to introduce fresh free-run eggs under the brand HERZBUBE. In this programme, the beaks of laying hens are not trimmed and the male chicks are raised.
REWE Group is striving to ensure that chicks for fattening have better hatching conditions. Traditional incubators usually contain several thousand eggs. However, the animals only have access to feed, water or light when all the chicks have hatched and arrived at the fattening farm – this can take up to 72 hours. Chicks that have hatched early lose a lot of body weight during this time and are exposed to great stress. With “Early Feeding”, REWE Group is the first food retailer in Germany to tackle this problem: the HatchCare method developed in the Netherlands ensures that the animals are provided with the basic necessities of life immediately after hatching. Once a chick hatches, it moves over to the other animals in a separate basket in the incubator. There it can move freely and start consuming water and food. In addition, the incubators are lit, thereby providing hatching conditions with better animal welfare.
The first chicks have been hatching in the hatcheries with the new method since spring 2017. The results are positive: since the animals are supplied with sufficient water and feed immediately after hatching, they are much stronger and energetic. The improved robustness of the Early Feeding chicks helps to improve their state of health and thus reduce the use of drugs. In the future, REWE Group will expect its suppliers to gradually implement this method into their supply chain. Therefore, the plan is to increasingly buy chicks from Early Feeding hatcheries.
Each year in Germany, millions of male chicks are killed on their first day of life during the breeding of laying hens for egg production. This is because they cannot lay eggs and are not a suitable source of meat, due to the fact that they grow more slowly and inefficiently and produce less chest meat than other commercially raised chickens bred specifically for this purpose. REWE Group is striving to stop this process and develop alternatives using new technology. The idea is to determine the sex of the chick when it is still in the hatching egg. During an endocrinological examination, a fine needle is used to take liquid from the hatching egg, which can be used to determine the gender. The hatching eggs containing male chicks are then separated out, while the hatching eggs containing female chicks are returned to the incubator. Only the female chicks are hatched on day 21 of incubation. This means that in the future it will no longer be necessary to kill male chicks. The basic research for this process has been carried out by the University of Leipzig. This should result in a practicable solution that can be used in the broadest possible scope. For this purpose, REWE Group has founded the joint venture “SELEGGT” together with a Dutch technology company.
Poultry breeding done under organic guidelines has to meet high requirements and creates tough challenges as a result. Currently, 95 per cent of global turkey breeding is done by two companies that exclusively use hybrid turkeys. These breeding lines are suitable for organic poultry breeding only to a limited degree because health problems can arise as a result of the turkeys’ fast growth and they are not suitable for reproduction. This creates a dependency on the breeder.
REWE Bio is providing support to Bioﬁno GmbH and its pace-setting approach to breeding. A new breed is being created by crossbreeding English free-range turkeys of the Auburn breed and a conventional hybrid breed. This new breed is characterised by its special robustness and vitality. It is also very well-suited for farms that employ free-range practises and use organic feed. Every animal has about 12 square metres of space in the barn, in the open air and in the covered outdoor area. The longer fattening period is consciously accepted. In 2017, following constant development work in recent years, 85 per cent of the turkey meat of Biofino GmbH was already coming from these turkeys. In 2018, the changeover to the new turkey breed will be fully implemented.
In 2010, REWE Group began to work with the animal protection foundation VIER PFOTEN International on plans to transform facilities for commercially bred rabbits from caged to free-run practises. In addition to providing rabbits with more freedom to move about, the animals are given materials to occupy themselves. Moreover, the floor is covered with plastic sheets to protect the balls of the animals’ feet. In the first step, REWE Group converted its assortment of frozen rabbit to animals produced on free-run farms at the end of 2012. Since 1 July 2016, fresh rabbit meat, too, comes exclusively from animals raised on free-run farms. In recognition of the company’s years-long commitment to species-appropriate animal-husbandry practises, REWE Group was presented the Good Rabbit Commendation by the animal protection group Compassion in World Farming in 2016.
By selling larger amounts of grass-fed cow’s milk, REWE Group is making a strong contribution to increased animal welfare in dairy farming. Pasture farming practises come closest to cows’ natural way of life, both in terms of their diets as well as their movement and social behaviour. In pasture farming practices, animals spend at least six hours a day on at least 120 days a year in pastures. For the extended-shelf life milk (ESL milk) in REWE’s assortment, the share of grass-fed milk was 17.60 per cent in 2017 (2016: 11.87 per cent*). Grass-fed milk has borne the seal “PRO WEIDELAND – Deutsche Weidecharta” since August 2017, while grass-fed butter has had it since December 2017. The first cheese products made from grass-fed milk have already been produced and plans to convert other products have already been made.
*The value for 2016 was subsequently adjusted due to a calculation error.
As part of the work done by the non-profit organisation DER Touristik Foundation e.V., DER Touristik supports the project Chili Against Elephants. The conflict between wild animals and human beings is becoming a bigger and bigger problem as populations grow and as people migrate to regions bordering on nature conservation areas. Elephants frequently destroy the annual harvest of entire villages and are often killed as a result.
A sensitisation campaign is designed to raise the awareness level of people in Tanzania about the promotion of sustainable habitats and biodiversity. There is one simple way to solve the conflict with elephants: The animals have a strong sense of smell and stay away from chili plants. By surrounding crops with so-called chili fences, about 75 per cent of the original damage can be avoided. The local population is taught how to grow and maintain the chili fences. The work being carried out with the project partners Upendo e.V. and the PAMS Foundation is helping both animals and people, as it can ease the conflict over living space and habitat.