Supermarkets have enormous influence over the animal welfare standards used to produce the meat, milk and eggs they sell. The vast majority of fresh animal produce in major supermarkets is sold under company own labels, where they have direct control over how the animals are reared and slaughtered (CIWF, 2002).
It should be noted that as a result of supermarket buying power, which drives down prices paid to suppliers, farmers are expected to work to impossibly small margins. In many cases they have no option but to intensify production in order to try and cover their costs. In addition, many of the big supermarkets have forced farmers into direct supply contracts via favoured slaughterhouses. The decline in the number of slaughterhouses and livestock markets means that animals must often travel long distances by truck to be slaughtered. This capture and control of the whole food supply chain by the supermarkets is a major contributor to poor animal welfare.
Viva!'s investigations into animal welfare
Viva have run a number of campaigns against the practices of leading supermarkets. In 2006 Viva! made a complaint, supported by the Food Standards Agency, about Tesco packaging on own-label duck products, which were misleading customers. The packaging suggested that the birds were reared free-range, but Viva! provided evidence that the they were housed in industrial sheds with no outdoor access. Trading Standards upheld the complaint.
In 2003, Viva undertook an investigation into a pig farm supplying Tesco, which revealed severe animal suffering. A follow-up investigation in 2004 revealed continued animal suffering including sows still confined to farrowing crates, overcrowding and lame pigs. Despite suggesting that a meeting might be useful, Tesco apparently found “one excuse after another not to actually hold one.”