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. Kiwis want to be assured that the animal products they buy from Countdown 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 New Zealand has strict animal welfare standards and we, alongside our suppliers, adhere to all Animal Welfare Act regulations. We also partner with accredited processing facilities which are overseen by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Close to 100 per cent of Countdown’s own fresh beef, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs and milk is New Zealand raised, and all is from approved sources that meet our high animal welfare standards.

Our approach:

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

We have adopted the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s (FAWC) ‘Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare’. 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. 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, veterinarians, academics, and government officials as appropriate.

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.

Our Policy is implemented through the Woolworths Supplier Excellence programme covering all Own Brand products. Progress on animal welfare is reported annually in our sustainability reports. In addition, all abattoirs are independently audited by a third party to their relevant sector requirements detailed in our animal welfare policy. Any non conformances are reported and closed out. 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 Own Brand supply chains. This information will help us to work with our suppliers to maintain high animal welfare standards and continually improve.

Livestock Transport:

Transportation times must be minimised at all times and do not exceed 8 hours. Travel times are typically within 1-4 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 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 added hormonal growth promotants across all species.

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 suppliers must comply with the MPI Code of Welfare for Painful Husbandry Procedures.

Enrichment

In order to promote natural behaviour and positive mental experiences, environmental enrichment is to be provided to all animals in own-brand supply chains. The following table shows intended enrichment provisions and the natural behaviours we aim to achieve per species.

Species Enrichment Behaviour
Layer Hens Perches, pecking objects, litter Pecking, nesting, perching, dust bathing, foraging, scratching
Meat Chickens Perches, bedding, pecking objects Pecking, perching, dust bathing, foraging, scratching
Beef Cattle Pasture access Grazing
Dairy Cows Pasture access Grazing
Pork Outdoor herds with foraging material Social and inquisitive behaviours

Pre-slaughter stunning:

All animals are pre-slaughter stunned by trained personnel as required by 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. Due to global demand for New Zealand beef and lamb, there may be times when we have to source these products from other international suppliers, but they all must meet our animal welfare standards. 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 gestation stall free. Less than two per cent of New Zealand’s pigs are farmed free range. SPCA certified pork is free from tethering, routine tail docking, routine teeth clipping, surgical castration and farrowing crates.

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 and tail docking.

Macro Organic Milk is certified organic (e.g. by AsureQuality).

Chicken:

All fresh chicken must meet the MPI Code of Welfare for Meat Chickens and recommended best practice is for chickens to be reared at stocking densities less than 30 kg per square metre. All fresh chicken is cage free and 14 per cent (by weight) is free range.

All Macro Free Range chickens are independently certified as free range (e.g. by the SPCA).

Eggs:

Countdown sources its eggs from approved suppliers in New Zealand who operate under guidelines from both the 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 Own Brand products, we are working towards these being cage free by 2025 too. So far, close to 70 per cent of Own Brand eggs are cage free and around 40 per cent of vendor brand eggs 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.

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. We source fresh New Zealand King Salmon, which is BAP certified, and fresh Huon Atlantic Salmon, which is GlobalG.A.P certified. These certificates include verifying good animal welfare practices.

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.