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Walmart takes stand against animal cruelty and overuse of antibiotics on farms

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Walmart wants its food suppliers to put an end to the inhumane treatment of animals and the overuse of antibiotics. Walmart, which is the largest food retailer in the US, said today that it would urge its suppliers to support what are known as the "five freedoms" of animal welfare, which include raising animals in environments that keep them free from fear, hunger, discomfort, sickness, and confined spaces. It also said that it wants suppliers to cease using antibiotics for growth purposes and to adopt voluntary FDA guidelines that limit the use of medically important antibiotics.

"We believe that farm animals in our supply chain should be treated humanely."

"We believe that farm animals in our supply chain should be treated humanely throughout their lives and that the welfare of farm animals should be considered in selection of all production systems, practices, and technologies," Walmart writes on its website.

It's not stated how strictly Walmart will hold its suppliers to supporting these practices, nor does it state a specific date that it would like to see them implemented by. Rather, Walmart simply writes that it will begin working with its supply chain partners to put these practices in place. Still, as the largest food retailer in the US, Walmart's adoption of these guidelines marks a major push toward humane animal treatment and responsible antibiotics usage. If suppliers want to work with Walmart, it seems that they'll eventually have to adopt these rules, which could have a fairly wide effect.

Walmart specifically calls out a number of issues that it would like to see resolved. Those include stopping the use of animal housing that's too confined, finding alternatives to painful practices like de-horning and castration, and ending slaughter without making an animal insensitive to pain. It's asking suppliers to provide animal welfare reports both to Walmart and the public on an annual basis so that tabs can be kept on their progress.

Specifically, the five freedoms include:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by ensuring prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Major food sellers have been announcing their intention to eliminate unnecessary antibiotics usage over the past year. McDonald's and Chick-fil-A have both set timelines for removing some or all antibiotics use. An apparent side effect of this is that Tyson Foods, one of the biggest meat processors in the world, has set the goal of eliminating use of human antibiotics by September 2017. Perdue has also been cutting down on the use of human antibiotics on chickens.

The use of antibiotics has become a growing public health issue, as overuse at the farm has begun leading toward more resistant strains of bacteria that can harm humans, too. Walmart makes it clear that it realizes customers are increasingly interested in supporting sustainable practices, which has led to the adoption of these new stances today. Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart's sustainability VP, says in a statement, "We have listened to our customers and are asking our suppliers to engage in improved reporting standards and transparency measures regarding the treatment of farm animals."