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Our use of ingredients from farm animals

brown chicken in green field on a sunny day with more chickens in the background

From eggs in our mayonnaise and dairy products in many of our ice creams to small amounts of meat by-product in some of our bouillons and soups, a number of our products include ingredients that come from farm animals.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tub

Our use of ingredients from farm animals

Farm animal welfare has been a core sustainable agriculture indicator for Unilever for many years. It’s also part of our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) (PDF 7.88MB), which we launched in 2010.

Based on the volumes we purchase, our major focus has been on sourcing cage-free eggs and on our dairy supply chain. We’ve made significant progress on both, in partnership with our suppliers.

Sourcing cage-free eggs

We’ve long recognised consumer concern around the provenance of eggs. We were one of the first global companies to work with egg suppliers to start providing cage-free eggs for our products. The term cage-free represents a better quality of life for the layer-hens, which are instead held in open/open indoor spaces instead of within small cages (battery cages).

In Europe, all our brands including Hellmann’s, Amora and Calvé have used 100% cage-free eggs since 2009. We then worked on a similar transition in North America, achieving 100% cage-free at the end of 2020.

We then committed to extend our cage-free egg commitment to the rest of the world by the end of 2025. We’re making progress, but there’s still further to go. Not all regions where we source eggs have established cage-free supply chains. In these markets, we are developing partnerships with NGO’s and/or retailers to promote development of cage-free farms and supply chains. By the end of 2022, 72% of our global egg supply was cage-free. We will continue to report progress annually on our website.

We share concerns about breeders of egg-laying hens eliminating male chicks, following methods that are included in EU Directives and American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines. While this is standard practice in egg production – and although we use only a small percentage of eggs produced in the market – we’re closely following the development of alternative options to current practices, such as technologies for sexing and raising the hens’ male siblings as a dual-purpose breed. We’ve committed to supporting the market introduction of effective technologies once they are available to our suppliers.

Sourcing sustainable dairy

When our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan came to an end in 2020, we made the decision to continue our commitment to purchase 100% of our dairy ingredients from sustainable sources for the foreseeable future.

By ‘sustainable sources’, we mean suppliers who comply with the requirements of our updated Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) or an equivalent standard, where Animal Welfare is one of the chapters. Find out more on our approach on our Sustainable and regenerative sourcing page.

Our SAC specifically requires producers to work with veterinary experts to develop health plans to ensure cattle are monitored to prevent or treat any illness and disease. Our aim is to protect cattle from physical discomfort, enable natural behaviour and encourage suppliers to allow cows to graze outside.

By the end of 2022, 74% of our dairy ingredients came from sustainable sources. This has improved from 64% in 2021due to our US suppliers being once again compliant with the Unilever Sustainable Agricultural Code. Our focus in the coming years is to achieve more sustainable sourced volumes in India and Turkey.

Raising welfare standards – Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program

Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program was established in 2004 and is now the one of the longest-running progressive dairy programs in the world. Ben & Jerry’s worked with CONO Cheesemakers, a 100-year-old farmer’s cooperative known for producing milk sustainably to extend the Program in Europe.

100% of Unilever’s global dairy population is free of tail docking

Tail docking

In 2016, we banned tail docking – the removal of part of a cows tail - in the Caring Dairy Program in the US a year before it became a legal requirement. It is also an illegal practice in Europe and Unilever continues to lend support to the Sustainable Dairy Partnership, where tail docking is also banned. 100% of Unilever’s global dairy population is free of tail docking.

Product breyers transparent background
Our other brands such as Breyers® are also pushing for change. Breyers® in the US also committed to only sourcing milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. Since 2020, we have not used any dairy products from cows treated with artificial growth hormones in any of our ice cream brands in the US.

Banning artificial growth hormones

The artificial growth hormone rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also known as rBST) is illegal in Europe and a number of other countries. In the US, however, it is still used in milk production. Ben & Jerry’s has openly opposed it’s use since 1989 and, as part of the Caring Dairy Program, our farmers have pledged not to use it.

Read more about Unilever’s position on the use of growth promoting substances in farm animals.

Grazing in natural environments

All farmers in our Caring Dairy program in Europe need to graze their dairy cows. They can receive additional payments if they graze youngstock and achieve a higher longevity. As part of the Program, tethering of dairy cows and young stock is also banned.

Monitoring animal health

As well as improving the lives of dairy cows, the Caring Dairy program also developed the Cow Compass to monitor animal health and welfare outcomes (based upon the EU welfare quality® program). Cow Compass has now been implemented with all our Dutch, UK, Belgium and German dairy suppliers. For more details, please see the Cow Compass website (Dutch only).

Knorr jar
Knorr is responsible for around 80% of the chicken volume we use. As such, the brand co-developed its own animal welfare standards in collaboration with NGO, Compassion in World Farming.

Find out how we’re progressing on higher welfare standards in our 2022 Animal Welfare Progress Report (PDF 217.41 KB).

How we source our meat by-product

Our volumes of meat-derived ingredients are small and decreasing as our portfolio evolves towards more plant-based offerings. We use a very small part of the animal to make our stocks and bouillons, as opposed to buying whole cuts.

For the meat by-product we do source, we believe in good quality ingredients which are responsibly sourced. Our approach to sourcing by-product is to focus on where we can have the biggest positive impact, and to work with partners to achieve scale in our actions.

Our ambitions for chicken

Of the meat by-product we source, the majority is from chicken. We source small volumes of pork and beef by-product and these are ever decreasing as we expand our plant-based portfolio.

Our welfare standards for broiler chickens (chickens raised solely for meat) in North America and Europe are in accordance with the European and US Better Chicken Commitments. We are focused on meeting our target for broiler chickens in these continents because it is where we can have the most significant impact from a sourcing perspective.

Halal products

Our guidelines on Halal products (PDF 269KB) include our commitment to offer Halal products based on market demands. We respect the preference of our Muslim consumers for products meeting Halal requirements. However, from an animal welfare perspective, Unilever requires stunning to be carried out prior to slaughter, whenever this is permitted under local regulations. This applies to all species and geographies.

Antibiotic resistance is serious

When sourcing animal-derived ingredients, producers may excessively or inappropriately use antibiotics to prevent rather than treat disease. This can lead to anti-microbial (antibiotic) resistance – a major concern for human and animal health.

As Unilever sources products from livestock supply chains, we can play a role, working with our suppliers, in preventing antibiotic resistance at the global level. We therefore encourage our suppliers to:

  1. Restrict use of the Highest Priority Critically Important antibiotics for human medicine as defined by the World Health Organisation, unless used under the direction of a veterinary surgeon as a treatment of last resort and following diagnostic testing
  2. Phase out routine prophylactic use of antibiotics (routine use for the prevention of disease) and the use of antibiotics as growth promoters
  3. Develop a written health plan in consultation with a veterinary surgeon that includes disease risks treatment protocols and preventative measures specific to the farm, which should contribute to reducing antibiotic use
  4. Record medicine usage to allow the monitoring of trends in antibiotic usage over time.

Read more on our position on the Responsible use of antibiotics (PDF 91 KB).

How we’re working with industry partners

We’re one of the founding members of The Global Coalition for Animal Welfare. We work together with others to accelerate the transition to higher welfare systems. We are doing this in order to generate a greater supply of higher welfare meat products in the supply chain.

Unilever was also one of the founders of the SAI Platform back in 2002, with the view to share knowledge and best practices to tackle some of the common challenges facing the agriculture sector. 20 years on, we are still active members. The SAI Platform not only facilitates cross-industry information sharing, it also provides solutions and tools to some of the most credible organisations pushing the sustainable agriculture agenda forward, such as The Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP), the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS) and the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA).

In 2022 Ben & Jerry’s launched a project via Unilever’s Climate & Nature Fund which principally aims to reduce the emissions of GHG in the dairy supply chains. Part of the holistic approach the project is taking is focused on ensuring a high level of animal welfare. For example, in Europe there will be strong focus on extended grazing for dairy cows and young stock, better housing conditions for cows and calves, cow brushes and improving longevity of dairy cows. In the US the focus will be on certifying all farms using the Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) certification, promoting grazing for dry cows and youngstock and increasing longevity.

Reporting on our progress

As part of our commitment to be more transparent about our animal welfare progress, we publicly report our purchase of ingredients from higher animal welfare systems (DOCX 67.88 KB). This demonstrates the progress we’ve made in key animal welfare areas.

Training is key to understanding

We will only achieve our commitments on animal welfare if our people really understand the issues involved. So we run regular training sessions for all relevant employees, from those involved in the buying of raw materials to those involved in marketing products to consumers.

Our training covers issues like animal welfare science, animal production systems and the importance of these issues to Unilever and our consumers. For those who deal directly with our suppliers, we provide in-depth, species-specific training so they are able to better engage with suppliers to drive change.

External recognition

We were identified as a Tier 2 company in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare 2021 which was published in April 2022. This means we have made farm animal welfare an integral part of our business strategy, but there are still improvements to be made through our engagement with our suppliers. The report is supported by Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals).

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