Press "Enter" to skip to content

Campus food provider implements animal welfare policy

Imagine being on a plane for five hours straight. The seats are cramped and uncomfortable, and there is not a lot of room to move around.  Now, imagine being confined to a crate or a cage barely larger than your own body for as long as five years.

Bon Appétit’s new policy requires pig products like those served at Founders to only come from pigs raised cage-free. (Chantelle Panackia)

This is the life that pigs and hens on factory farms, establishments that raise high numbers of livestock in a closely confined space, are
subjected to.

In an attempt to help change these conditions, Bon Appétit Management Company, which supplies Mills College’s Tea Shop and Founders Commons, has begun to implement a policy outlining ways that food providers can improve their practices.

“This is the most comprehensive animal welfare policy of any food service provider in U.S. history,” said Josh Balk, a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that is instrumental in the protection
of animals.

Bon Appétit should be applauded for its innovative policy designed to improve animal welfare, according to Balk. Eight states have already banned gestation crates, including California.

Although a California-based company, Bon Appétit runs the dining operations at more than 400 colleges and universities in 31 states. Many of the food producers that Bon Appétit buys from are certified by Animal Welfare Approved, Food Alliance, Humane Farm Animal Care and Global Animal Partnership, programs that have set high standards for animal welfare practice.

“We buy as much from local providers as we feasibly can, but we also have to be sensitive to prices that students can afford. We are also an extremely large company,” said Powell.  “There is very little local pork production in California and there is a lot of competition for it from fine dining restaurants. There are also very few egg producers. We believe very strongly that getting the ‘big guys’ – large national producers – to improve their practices is more effective than simply vacuuming up all the products of local small producers.”

According to Helene York, Bon Appétit’s director of strategic sourcing and research, the policy’s purpose is to take a strong stand in favor of animal welfare and against animal cruelty where buying power can make a big difference in changing the way food is produced.

In addition, Powell said, Bon Appétit is pledging that by 2015, they will buy at least 25 percent of their meat, poultry, and eggs from producers who not only don’t use crates or cages, but who have also been certified by four independent, high-level animal-welfare groups that encourage farmers to allow animals to engage in natural behaviors, such as wallowing in the mud for pigs and nesting for hens.

According to Bonnie Powell, Bon Appétit’s director of communications, under the new policy the company is requiring that all pork be produced without gestation crate confinement systems (crates for pregnant livestock), and that the pigs be allowed to roam free. They will also require all liquid eggs, where the yolk has been separated from the shell, from hens in battery (wire) cages to switch to hens living in cage-free farms, and will entirely eliminate from menus foie gras (livers of force-fed ducks and geese) and veal from calves confined in crates.

Currently, pregnant sows (female pigs) are confined to gestation crates for over four months before being transferred to another type of cage for weaning, which takes a few weeks, and returned once more to the gestation crate.  This cycle is then repeated for four years.

“The crates are barely larger than the pigs’ own bodies,” said Balk. “The crates are so small the pigs can’t even turn around.”

As for hens confined to wire cages, “they can’t even spread their wings,” said Balk.  “Each hen is given less space than a single sheet of paper to live on for her entire life.”

By Sept 1, 2012, veal that is not certified crate-free will not be permitted on any Bon Appetit menu, while humanely certified beef patties will be available in all regions that Bon Appetit services. By Aug 1, 2013, Bon Appétit hopes that all eggs (liquid or shell) will have become humanely certified eggs. Finally, gestation-crate-free pork products will be in every account by 2015.

The whole policy will be phased over the next three years, hopefully completed by 2015, according to Bon Appétit sources. In the meantime, certain aspects will go into effect immediately, including the elimination of foie gras, which is achieved through force-feeding ducks and geese through a process known as gavage, from Bon Appétit operations.

Bon Appétit CEO Fedele Bauccio was horrified by what he learned about factory farms after he served on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, an in-depth examination of the farm animal industry, from 2006 to 2008, and made it a company-wide commitment to start changing the policy regarding animal welfare immediately.

“We’ve been trying to switch what we can to animal-welfare-certified suppliers,” said Powell, “But it hasn’t been easy. We’re already having hard conversations with our current suppliers, who will have to change their practices by our deadline or else lose our business.”

A press release following the announcement of Bon Appétit’s change in animal welfare policy stated that the company is also fighting against the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals, both to protect their effectiveness in humans and to end the factory-farm conditions they enable by increasing productivity of the animals they are released into.

This point brings up the question of the health benefits of eating free-range meat as opposed to meat processed through factory farms.

“There are no studies that I am aware of that indicate there are any differences in taste or nutritional makeup,” said Powell.  “Anecdotally, most people do believe humanely raised meat tastes better since it is not accompanied by horrible mental images of suffering. The real benefits are not for personal health, but for the animals, the workers in these factories and the communities where theyare located.”

According to Balk, Bon Appétit is exemplary because it cares about making the world more humane and sustainable.

In a post to the blog “Civil Eats,” titled, “Inside One Corporation’s Decision to ‘Go Humane’,” York said, “Good animal welfare isn’t just about the animals. It’s about starting to dismantle a system that has enormous costs for our society, including the loss of medically important antibiotics, the pollution of our air and water from animal waste, and horrible working conditions in factory farms.”

“With its innovative policy,” said Balk, “It’s no wonder, then, that all students interested in animal rights and welfare should be thrilled that Bon Appétit is the food service provider of choice at Mills.”

According to Powell, Bon Appétit is the only food service company, to date, to have made such a commitment to animal welfare.

“This is a historic announcement that hopefully all food providers will follow,” said Balk.