LAYING DOWN THE FACTS:
ANIMAL WELFARE STANDARDS OF THE COMPANIES PROVIDING YOUR FAVOURITE FOODS

Selected Stakeholders
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Egg Layer Hens
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Chickens killed for food
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Executive Summary

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Background

Approximately 1 billion chickens are killed every year for food in South Africa at the hands of the Poultry Industry. This number does not include the millions of Egg-Layer Hens used in the Egg Industry nor the thousands of baby male Chicks who are killed in the Egg Industry each year. In 2021, the national layer flock of hens comprised 26.85 million hens in South Africa. Over 86% of Egg-Laying Hens in South Africa are confined to live in Battery Cages and 8,480,400,000 eggs were produced in 2021. South Africans consume between 150 and 159 eggs per capita, and this number is increasing.

Chickens are sentient beings worthy of human protection and consideration. They have been shown to exhibit various capacities and capabilities, including that they: have visual and spatial capacities; some understanding of numerosity; can demonstrate self-control and self-assessment; communicate in complex ways; the capacity to reason and make logical inferences; perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events; behaviourally sophisticated; complex negative and positive emotions; and have distinct personalities.

In South Africa, the Poultry Industry faces several challenges, including as a result of rising prices (including due to cost of feed), the current electricity crisis and associated load shedding causing huge financial losses, and major risks from highly pathogenic viruses such as the avian flu. More information on the Egg Industry in South Africa (which is part of the broader Poultry Industry) is set out in the Industry Component in Section II of this Initial Report. Despite these major challenges, the South African Government aims to greatly increase and promote the consumption and use of chickens and eggs through initiatives and policies such as the “Poultry Sector Master Plan” and the “Egg Master Plan” by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (“DALRRD”) and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (“DTIC”).

Another major challenge in respect of the Egg Industry, is the governance thereof. ALRSA takes the view that existing governance mechanisms do not adequately address the negative consequences and impacts of the Egg Industry. From an animal welfare perspective, the law does not sufficiently protect the interests of the millions of animals implicated in animal agriculture, including egg Laying Hens and their Chicks. While there are negative duties in the form of anti-cruelty laws which technically apply to farmed animals, evidence suggests that these are rarely utilised for such animals, particularly those industrialised agricultural facilities. Further, the public can do little to ensure compliance with or the enforcement of these soft laws and voluntary measures. Consequently, they do little to protect the interests of the millions of animals in the Egg Industry.

Against this background, ALRSA has undertaken the Project entitled: “Laying Down the Facts: the Animal Welfare Standards of the Companies Providing your Favourite Foods” subtitled “Corporate Accountability in the Egg Industry” in order to:

  • foster public and consumer interest and understanding of the regulatory and policy regime governing farmed animals; and
  • incentivise and promote accountability from Corporations in relation to their farmed animal practices (including in relation to improved transparency) and in so doing encourage improved practices relating to animals in the Egg Supply Chain (including through Cage-free Commitments from South African retailers, restaurants, fast food chains, hotels and others).

 

Initially, the Project consisted of five sections, namely:

  • Chicken and Egg: Industry Component (as contained in Section II of this Initial Report).
    • The Industry Component aims to provide information about the Poultry Industry and Egg Industry in South Africa including in relation to the chickens (life-cycle and stages); eggs (types, size, grading) and the South African market, economics and impacts.

 

  • Revealing the Cracks: Research Component (as contained in Section III of this Initial Report)
    • Within the Research Component, six key “Pillars” applicable to the South African Egg Industry have been researched and introduced at a high level in terms of how they intersect with the Egg Supply Chain – these include Pillars relating to:
      • Animal Welfare;
      • the Environment;
      • Food Health and Safety;
      • Social Issues and Rights;
      • Consumer Protection, and
      • Corporate and Business issues.
    • The Animal Welfare Pillar is the main focus of this Initial Report and is accordingly described in the most detail. Each Pillar contains a high-level summary of how the selected issue relates to the Egg Industry in South Africa and sets out some of the main governance documents in respect thereof.

 

  • The Fox and the Henhouse: Stakeholder Component (as contained in Section IV of this Initial Report).
    • Within the Stakeholder Component, thirty-six (or three dozen) Corporations within the Egg Supply Chain were identified and selected for rating on issues in respect of certain matters identified in the aforementioned Pillars among others, animal welfare, transparency, and co-operation.
    • The Stakeholder Component consists of four Parts:
      • Part A, the introduction;
      • Part B, which sets out the methodology adopted;
      • Part C, the rating exercise conducted and
      • Part D, our analysis.

 

  • Hatching a Plan: Recommendations (as contained in Section V of this Initial Report)
    • Finally, based on the aforementioned four Sections and following our analysis of the research and Selected Stakeholders, several recommendations have been proposed to assist the Egg Industry in South Africa in becoming more accountable, particularly in relation to animal welfare.

section I: Introductory Matters

Part A: Glossary

Certain terms and abbreviations are used widely throughout the Initial Report. Additional terms and abbreviations not widely utilised are defined in the relevant part and section to which they apply.

What is Corporate Accountability

Throughout the Initial Report, the term “Corporate Accountability” is used. However, there is no universal definition of what this term means. Prior to explaining the term, it is important to understand background information about why Corporate Accountability is important and relevant.

Broadly, Corporate responsibility means that Corporations are responsible for the impacts that they have on the world around them, and that they are responsible to those that their operations have an impact on. It has not only legal dimensions, but also non-legal ones, including ethical and moral responsibilities. To ALRSA, this includes responsibilities (and duties) in respect of the Pillars identified being animal welfare; the environment; human rights and social justice; protecting consumers; and ensuring safety and health. These responsibilities and duties expand beyond shareholders and investors, and include the public and society at large, employees, and other specific stakeholders, such as animals.

According to Bilchitz, “[t]he Constitution has established a foundation which recognises that animals and their welfare matters. That lens, bolstered by the APA read with the Criminal Procedure Act, is the basis through which we should view corporate accountability and that of its directors and employees. That, in turn, requires us to reflect on the role corporate law can play with the goal of embedding a concern with animals within the corporate structure.

Within this constitutional context ALRSA seeks to establish that in South Africa, it is no longer acceptable for Corporations to be motivated solely by profits, but must be motivated by protecting the interests of all who are impacted by its operations, whether they are humans or nonhumans.

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