Call for institutional investors to get behind farm animal welfare as a material issue

Companies respond to ‘critical mass’, says EdenTree’s White

There’s been a call for institutional investors to get behind farm animal welfare as a material investment issue.

It came from Neville White, Head of SRI Policy and Research at EdenTree Investment Management, at the presentation of the latest Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) (see separate story).

Noting how billions of animals enter the food chain annually, he said: “The business case is clear to me as an investor, given it has materiality and probability.”

White likened farm animal welfare to initiatives such as Access to Medicine and Access to Nutrition that have taken off – and also pointed out that just a few years ago an issue like human trafficking was seen as unimportant but has since become a more mainstream investor and corporate issue.

“We do need an investor statement that investors can get behind. Companies take note of critical mass,” White said at the event in London.

This was backed by Rory Sullivan, the Expert Advisor to the BBFAW, who said: “I’m now very excited about it and we should take it forward.” Sullivan, who’s also Strategic Advisor at Ethix SRI Advisers, said the BBFAW would evolve into a performance benchmark.The issue has been already taken up by private equity executive Jeremy Coller’s FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) initiative and his firm, Coller Capital, is backing the BBFAW, along with campaign groups Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection.

BBFAW Executive Director Nicky Amos said she was well aware the benchmark is “not as global as we’d like it to be” and she agreed that the topic isn’t yet a mature issue.

The issue is hindered by a lack of global standards, though the European Union does recognise that animals are sentient beings. In October a report commissioned by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) from Trucost estimated that industrialized farming practices cost the environment some $3.33trn a year.

The BBFAW report came on the day supermarket giant Tesco issued an apology for its business practices with suppliers following a report from the Groceries Code Adjudicator watchdog. “In 2014 we undertook our own review into certain historic practices, which were both unsustainable and harmful to our suppliers,” said CEO Dave Lewis.