Livestock farming is a major branch of agricultural production. The conditions in which farm animals are kept are crucially important. Ideally, conditions will be adapted to meet the animals’ natural needs. This is often not the case in modern production systems however, as economic considerations are now primary. Thus livestock have been made to adapt to livestock keeping systems. The animals are subject to routine physical interventions to make intensive livestock farming in conventional stall systems possible. The clipping of piglets’ ring tails is an example of this.
To permanently integrate sustainability into its company processes, REWE Group has developed an all-encompassing sustainability strategy that is made up of four main pillars: Green Products; Energy, Climate and the Environment; Employees; and Social Involvement. The Green Products Strategy 2030 was adopted in 2017 in a move to more strongly anchor sustainability within procurement processes. In the action areas of ethical business practices, animal welfare and conservation of resources, the trade and tourism company designs effective measures to reduce environmental and social impacts as part of the Green Products commitment. The keeping of livestock is of special significance in the area of action of animal welfare.
REWE Group is stepping up its efforts to comply with and improve animal welfare standards. This includes informative, consumer-friendly labelling of fresh meat products. REWE and PENNY introduced a four-level model for labelling in Germany in 2018. Together with other food retailers, the stores then decided to standardise labelling. Since 1 April 2019, companies involved in the Animal Welfare initiative have been progressively introducing packaged products using the “Farming Type“ labelling system. This affords consumers an overview on the product packaging of how the animals are kept from which a particular meat product is made. This four-level system regulating existing quality, animal welfare and organic seals for pigs, poultry and cattle is designed as follows:
Level 1: Stable keeping
This type of livestock keeping complies with legal requirements or the QS standard or a comparable standard.
Level 2: Stable keeping plus
Animals are kept in a manner upholding higher animal welfare standards, such as providing 10 per cent or more space in the stall and additional material for activity.
Level 3: Outdoor exposure
In this type of livestock keeping, animals are given even more space and contact with fresh air.
Level 4: Premium
The animals enjoy even more space and need to have possibilities for ranging outdoors. Organic meats are classified to this level.
REWE Group is increasing its commitment to better livestock farming conditions for animals through a host of measures:
Boars, or uncastrated 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. As early as August 2015, REWE Group set out the goal of exclusively selling fresh pork from pigs not subject to unanaesthetised castration at the earliest possible date. The majority of suppliers have now made the switch to alternative methods. Therefore, most REWE Group meat sold already meets these requirements, including REWE Bio brand meat and sausage products for two years now. REWE Group accepts all procedures that are allowed by law in Germany as alternative methods to piglet castration without anaesthesia.
In conventional animal husbandry, the tails of most piglets are docked, or trimmed, within four days after birth. This prevents pigs from biting one another’s tails, which they may do when under great stress. If the ring tail is not docked and remains intact during the animal’s life, this can be an indicator of humane husbandry conditions.
Following an initial phase in 2016, REWE Group carried out a flagship project in 2017 and 2018 in close cooperation with the two farmers’ associations of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Chamber of Agriculture of North Rhine-Westphalia. Some 60 pig farms participated in the project, in which instead of trimming pigs’ tails the farms altered husbandry conditions by providing pigs with rooting earth, hay or straw and open drinking water sources. This approach provided additional opportunities for activity and helped 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.
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 dedicated to stopping this procedure, and thus is carrying out a project in which male chicks are raised. Under the exclusive brand “Spitz & Bube”, the free-range eggs have been on sale throughout Germany in all participating REWE stores since July 2017. The brand name plays in German on how the beaks of the laying hens are left in their natural form and how their male counterparts are raised for eventual slaughter. Free-range and organic versions were rolled out in an expansion of the project in 2018. Fresh Spitz & Bube free-range eggs have been available nationwide since March 2018. In the organic category, roughly 60 per cent of all REWE organic fresh eggs were under the Spitz & Bube brand by the end of the 2018 financial year. The goal is to switch REWE organic fresh eggs over completely to the Spitz & Bube brand’s concept.
Since 2018, the meat for REWE Beste Wahl chicken fricassee is from Spitz & Bube cocks raised under the same conditions as the hens, and also receive non-GMO feed.
In early 2017, under the brand HERZBUBE, PENNY became the first discounter in Germany to introduce fresh free-range eggs nationwide for which laying hens’ beaks are left untrimmed and male chicks are raised up.
In classic incubators, individual animals are left untended for up to 36 hours, resulting in chicks which hatch early losing up to 10 per cent of their hatching weight from dehydration, thus losing their vitality and robustness. Early feeding systems are an innovative solution REWE Group is deploying as the first food retailer in Germany to take responsibility for animal welfare post-hatching. Currently two different methods are in place: the HatchCare process and “In-Stall Hatching” systems. Both methods ensure that the basic life needs of the birds are met immediately upon hatching.
In the HatchCare method, when the chick hatches it slides into a separate basket in the incubator with the other birds. In two-level incubators, the ‘hordes’ as they are called, consisting of a maximum 90 eggs each, newly hatched chicks automatically slide down to the lower level. There they have enough light, air and space to move about freely without egg shells in the way, and with drinking water and feed available immediately after hatching. In addition, the incubators are lit, thereby providing hatching conditions with better animal welfare. The first chicks have been hatching in hatcheries with the new method since spring 2017.
With In-Stall Hatching systems, the chicks hatch right in the feed stall. This eliminates chicks hatching in the hatchery and having to be transported to the stall, which can often take several hours. The chicks also have direct access to feed and water in the stall.
Both methods yield positive results: Providing feed and water at an early stage, optimal climate control and sufficient space and light are effective for preventing developmental problems. All chicks thus enjoy a more balanced, vital start to their lives, significantly lowering chick mortality.
REWE Group wants suppliers to phase in the early feeding method into the supply chain, and intends to increase buying of chicks from early feeding systems.
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, the animal protection organisation Compassion in World Farming honoured REWE Group with the Good Egg Award 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 attained the target it set ahead of schedule: In September 2017 REWE became Germany’s first trade company to stop selling conventional eggs from laying hens with clipped beaks under its store brands in all REWE and PENNY stores. Organic eggs are exempt from this requirement because farms have to reject the practise of beak trimming in order to qualify for organic certification.
All fresh eggs from REWE and Penny are KAT-certified.
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 16.67 per cent in 2018 (2017: 13.05 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. Since September 2018, the REWE sales line has been selling pasture milk and fresh milk nationwide bearing the animal welfare label “For Greater Animal Welfare” granted by the German Animal Welfare Federation. Four different cheese products are now made of milk from pasture-grazing cows, and four different yoghurt products made of pasture milk will also be found on shelves in 2019. Plans are in place to make the change with further items. PENNY stores are also planning to carry milk bearing the animal welfare label in 2019. Additionally, since the end of 2018, all PENNY stores have carried sausage products made from the pig breed Teutoburger Hofschwein, and 550 PENNY stores have carried additional meat products bearing the “For Greater Animal Welfare” label of the German Animal Welfare Federation.
* The percentage of pasture milk stated for 2017 has been subsequently adjusted due to a data collection error.
From January 2019, 3.8% organic hay milk made by Allgäuer Hof-Milch GmbH is available in REWE stores in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. This milk is produced exclusively at dairy farms in the Allgäu region certified for compliance with the stringent regulations of the international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS. The FOUR PAWS “animal welfare verified” seal of approval distinguishes products made from livestock which enjoy substantially better living conditions than in conventional animal farming. For example, animals are kept untethered in loose housing, affording sufficient space for moving about and lying down. Compliance with the standards is regularly monitored through unannounced inspections. REWE and FOUR PAWS have cooperated for several years now. The introduction of “animal welfare verified” milk is an important step in this cooperation, so that consumers can play an active part in promoting animal welfare by purchasing certified animal-friendly products.
Poultry breeding done under organic guidelines has to meet high requirements and creates tough challenges as a result. Currently, 95 per cent of global organic 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 cross-breeding 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 2018, following constant development work in recent years, 100 per cent of turkey meat from Biofino GmbH was from these turkeys. Our other suppliers are to have completed the switch over to the new breed of turkey by 2021.
In 2010, REWE Group began to work with the animal protection foundation FOUR PAWS International on plans to transform rabbit farming facilities from cages over to the free-range model. In addition to greater freedom of movement, the animals enjoy more material for activity, and the flooring has plastic plates to protect their foot pads. 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 organisation Compassion in World Farming in 2016.
To produce buffalo milk mozzarella, each cow has to give birth to one calf per year. Around half of these calves are male. The males give no milk and their meat is unpopular with consumers, thus there is little interest in raising them. Animal welfare organisations have repeatedly called attention to the resulting problems and animal welfare violations. In a move to avoid such violations, REWE Group has outlined minimum requirements for suppliers. These include compliance with the buffalo husbandry requirements issued by the animal rights foundation FOUR PAWS and provide access to mud baths or install water spray systems, for example.