Countdown: Animal Welfare

Animal Welfare

Ensuring every animal in our supply chain has its physical and mental needs met is incredibly important to our business and the three million Kiwis that shop with us each week. Like us, Kiwis want to be assured that the animal products they buy are sourced from suppliers with very strong animal welfare standards.

Animal welfare is a broad term covering the general health, welfare and wellbeing of animals. For us at Countdown, it covers all the elements associated with livestock production including housing, grazing, nutrition, disease prevention and control, transport and humane handling and slaughter.

Aotearoa has strict animal welfare standards and we, alongside our suppliers, adhere to the Animal Welfare Act and associated regulations. We also partner with processing facilities which are overseen by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and have audited risk management plans.

All of Countdown’s own fresh beef, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs and milk is from New Zealand. We procure some frozen and processed meat from overseas but all are  approved sources that meet our animal welfare standards.

Our approach:

Our Animal Welfare Policy sets out minimum requirements and expectations for our products and suppliers.

We have adopted the international Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s (FAWC) ‘Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare’ (FAWC, 2009). These freedoms define ideal states and are the frameworks that guide our policies and procedures.

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by providing ready access to freshwater and a diet to maintain health and vigour
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease through prevention, rapid diagnosis, and treatment
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and the company of the animals' own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering. 

Animals are sentient beings and should experience positive health and wellbeing. This is why we also recognise the Five Domains and are working with our suppliers to go beyond the Five Freedoms, where we are not only providing the animal with its basic needs but also a good life.

We are committed to collaborating with our suppliers to achieve the best possible animal welfare outcomes. Our livestock procurement team is highly experienced in livestock production and works closely with our suppliers. We also consult with animal welfare experts, such as the SPCA, FAI Farms, veterinarians, academics, and government officials, including on independent and national standards development and review.

Our Animal Welfare Policy and Standards are aligned with Compassion in World Farming and we are working towards a Tier 1 score on the Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare. In 2020, we achieved a Tier 2 score.

Our Policy is implemented through the Woolworths Supplier Excellence programme covering all our own brand products. Progress on animal welfare is reported annually in our sustainability reports. In addition, all abattoirs are licensed and independently audited by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Our Animal Welfare strategy is aligned with our Woolworths Group Animal Welfare Strategy.

Welfare Outcome Measures

As part of our ongoing commitment to animal welfare, we are tracking key health and welfare indicators across the key species in our own brand supply chains. This information will help us to work with our suppliers to maintain high animal welfare standards and continually improve.

Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare

To validate our performance and hold ourselves accountable, we participate in the Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW). In 2020, Woolworths Group moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2, which demonstrates our ongoing work with suppliers to improve the lives of animals in our supply chain. There were only 23 companies around the world that achieved a Tier 2 or higher rating. We are working towards achieving a Tier 1 score. 

Livestock Transport

Animals should only be transported when their welfare can be appropriately managed. Transportation times must be minimised at all times and should not exceed 8 hours. In FY 2021, 99.6% of our fresh meat supply chain was transported within this time. Travel times are typically within 1-5 hours for all species. The welfare of the animals must never be compromised and MPI’s Code of Welfare for Transportation must be followed. 

Genetically Modified

We don’t allow the use of Genetically Modified (GM) food or ingredients in own brand products. Animals used to produce our organic range of meat, eggs and milk must be reared on non-GM feed. We do not prohibit the use of GM feed in the production of our non-organic meat, eggs and milk.

Growth Promotants

Our own brand products are reared without hormonal growth promotants.

Husbandry Practices

We are committed to eradicating the need for routine mutilations and are working with suppliers to find alternatives. Mutilations (e.g. tail docking) are only undertaken to protect the welfare of the animals and are carried out by trained personnel using the most humane techniques. All New Zealand suppliers must comply with the MPI Code of Welfare for Painful Husbandry Procedures.

Environmental Enrichment

In order to promote natural behaviour and positive mental experiences for animals, we are committed to providing environmental enrichment where possible to all animals in our own brand supply chains. The following table shows intended enrichment provisions and the natural behaviours we aim to achieve per species.

Species

Enrichment 

(at least one provided)

Behaviour

Proportion of Animals with Enrichment

Layer Hens (whole shell eggs)

Perches, pecking objects, litter

Pecking, nesting, perching, dust bathing, foraging, scratching

72%

Meat Chickens

Perches, pecking objects, litter

Pecking, perching, dust bathing, foraging, scratching

100%

Turkeys

Perches, pecking objects, litter

Pecking, perching, dust bathing, foraging, scratching

100%

Beef Cattle

Pasture access

Grazing

100%

Dairy Cows

Pasture access

Grazing

100%

Lambs

Pasture access

Grazing

100%

Pork

Outdoor herds with foraging material

Foraging and play

100%

Pre-slaughter Stunning

All New Zealand farmed animals are pre-slaughter stunned by trained personnel as required by New Zealand legislation.

Red Meat (beef and lamb)

We source New Zealand grass-fed fresh beef and lamb. Suppliers must hold the NZ Beef+Lamb Quality Mark or an equivalent standard. We’re also encouraging all our suppliers to join the NZ Farm Assurance Programme. Mulesing sheep and tail docking cattle are banned in New Zealand.

Pork

All of Countdown’s fresh pork is free farmed with the majority sourced from Patoa Farms in Canterbury. Patoa Farms has been free farming pork since 1998, and is certified by the SPCA. Free farming is not the same as free range. Free farmed sows are outside in a paddock, and piglets are raised in barns after they’re weaned. There are no crates or stalls to trap sows in place, which means our pork is 100 per cent free from gestation stalls and farrowing crates. Only three per cent of New Zealand’s pigs are farmed free range. SPCA certified pork is free from tethering, routine tail docking (although, it is permitted on a temporary basis for welfare purposes while farmers move to a non-docking environment), routine teeth clipping, surgical castration, farrowing crates and mating stalls.

Macro fresh pork is either certified free range or organic.

Dairy Cows

All Countdown milk must meet the MPI Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle. These cows are free from routine tethering, close confinement and tail docking. Countdown milk is sourced from Fonterra, who are also participants of the BBFAW with strict animal welfare standards. You can read more about their work to care for animals here. This includes over half of Fonterra’s New Zealand suppliers having animal wellbeing plans in 2019.

Macro Organic Milk is certified organic. 

Chicken

All fresh and frozen chicken must meet the MPI Code of Welfare for Meat Chickens. All of our fresh and frozen chicken is cage free. Twenty one per cent of our fresh chicken sales are free range. All Macro Free Range chickens are independently certified as free range (e.g. by the SPCA).

Turkey

All Countdown turkeys are Macro Free Range with independent animal welfare certification. All turkeys are free from desnooding, dewinging and toe clipping.

Eggs

Countdown sources its eggs from approved suppliers in New Zealand who operate under guidelines from both MPI and Egg Producers Federation. 

Countdown’s goal is to have 100 per cent cage-free eggs on shelf, subject to regulatory changes and based on available supply, affordability and customer demand. We are targeting the end of 2024 in the North Island and the end of 2025 in the South Island. Where we use eggs in our own brand products, we are working towards these being cage free by 2025 too. So far, 79 per cent of own brand egg sales are cage free and around 56 per cent of vendor brand egg sales are cage free. We continue to work on this.

To support this work, in 2016 we launched our Egg Producer Programme for Free Range and Barn suppliers. This programme provides certainty to suppliers that if they invest in free range or barn egg farming, we will buy those eggs. In 2021, we transitioned five existing stores across Auckland and Wellington to only selling cage-free eggs on the shelf as part of our long-standing commitment to move to cage-free eggs on shelf. Three new stores (Metro Albert Street, Metro Halsey Street, and Richmond) have only sold cage-free eggs since they first opened in 2019 and 2021.

 

In 2020, we also launched a new commitment to use 100 per cent cage-free eggs as an ingredient in our own brand products by 2025. We have identified at least 100 products where egg is used as an ingredient and our team is working with suppliers to transition these to cage-free sources.

Learn more about our path to going cage free here.

Farmed Finfish

Farmed finfish will not be sold live and must meet MPI codes of welfare or be an approved supplier of equivalent standard. The salmon farms we source from are closely monitored for animal health. We source fresh New Zealand King Salmon, which is BAP certified, and fresh Huon Atlantic Salmon, which is GlobalG.A.P and RSPCA certified. We also source some imported frozen Atlantic salmon which is also GlobalG.A.P certified. These certificates include verifying good animal welfare practices. These farms do not clip the fins of these fish.

Animal Testing

Countdown does not use animal testing in any of its own brand products.

Pets, Live Animals and Pet Accessories

All pet accessories sold in our stores, such as collars or bowls, undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they are safe and comfortable for the animal. Instructions for use are clearly stated on the label.

Key Welfare Metrics

Key welfare metrics are summarised below. We are continuing to improve on these with our supply partners. As we gather more information we will continue to report on our welfare metrics.

 

Fresh Meat Welfare Metrics 

(beef, lamb, pork, salmon, eggs, chicken, dairy)

2020/21

Free from close confinement (e.g. cage free)

99%

Environmental enrichment provided

99%

Pre-slaughter stunning

100%

Ineffective stun

0.1%

Free from routine mutilation (e.g. tail docking, dehorning, castration)

63%

Journey time less than 8 hours

99.6%

 

Species Welfare Metrics 

Species

Measure

2020/21

Layer hens

Mortality rate

3.4%

Secondary / backup stun

0.0%

Chickens

Broken wings

0.0%

Mortality rate (dead on arrivals)

0.3%

Secondary / backup stun

0.0%

Road traffic incidents

0.0%

Fresh beef

Injured during transport / unfit for transport

<0.1%

Mortality rate (dead on arrivals)

0.0%

Secondary / backup stun

0.1%

Fresh lamb

Injured during transport / unfit for transport

<0.2%

Mortality rate (dead on arrivals)

<0.1%

Secondary / backup stun

0.2%

Fresh pork

Mortality rate (dead on arrivals)

0.0%

Secondary / backup stun

0.0%

 

Animals free from mutilations

Sector or species

Procedure

2020/21

Chickens - fresh & frozen

Beak trimming

100%

Turkey

Desnooding, dewinging & toe clipping

100%

Dairy cattle

Tail docking

100%

Fresh lamb

Mulesing

100%

Fresh pork - finisher pigs

Teeth clipping & surgical castration

100%

Farmed salmon

Fin clipping

100%

 

Standards used by suppliers to demonstrate animal welfare

Chicken

MPI codes of welfare

SPCA Free Range

Farmed Fish

MPI codes of welfare

GlobalGAP

Best Aquaculture Practice

Pork

MPI codes of welfare

SPCA Free Farmed

PigCare Free Farmed

PigCare Free Range

Beef & Lamb

MPI codes of welfare

NZ Quality Mark

NZ Farm Assurance Programme 

Eggs

MPI codes of welfare

Countdown Industry Standard for Eggs

SPCA

Turkey

AsureQuality Animal Welfare certification