For the first time ever, we have compiled a comprehensive ranking of the animal welfare standards of the largest German retail chains. The companies were able to collect points for their animal welfare policies in a total of 14 categories, 12 of which deal with the specific policies for the most heavily used animal groups in the retailing sector. The ranking was topped off with the evaluation of lists, which name all products the company specifically excludes from sale (such as lobster, foie gras and fur). In addition, the companies’ general stances on topics such as taking part in our fish initiative and expansion of vegan options in stores were analyzed.
Summary of Results
The results are more than clear: Regional chain Tegut comes in first place, scoring 51% of all points possible. Runner-up is Aldi (North and South) followed closely by Lidl and Kaufland; their overall scores show how tight the race was. The companies ranked fifth to eleventh will need to up their game if they do not want to fall behind in the future: none of them were able to even score 20% of the maximum number of points.
While progress does not come fast or easily and there undoubtedly still is a lot of room for improvement, it is also apparent that there is a definite trend towards better animal welfare standards that are continuously being developed and expanded. Depending on the category assessed, we have found vast differences between the performances of the individual retail chains.
The Company Results in Depth
1st place: Tegut
Tegut is a retailer with over 250 stores, located in central Germany. Their annual revenue is around 1 billion Euros. Tegut is not active outside of Germany but does belong to the Swiss Migros group.
What we appreciate about Tegut’s policy is that they have drafted animal welfare standards for almost all groups of farmed animals and not just a few like their competitors. Tegut’s policy is clear and concise which brought extra points. However, with 51% of the possible max there still is a lot of room for improvement, especially when looking at the scope of products their policy applies to.
Aldi has a very solid negative list that strictly excludes lobster and rabbit meat from sale, which helped them get their lead over Lidl and Kaufland. Not only has the giant retailer vowed to implement animal welfare standards for fishes in aquacultures (which we are very excited about), it has also decided to include the »Five Provisions and Welfare Aims« instead of the Five Freedoms (a model that has become a bit dusty over the last decades) to improve their current policies. Beyond these great news we still see a lot of work that needs to be done: e.g. Aldi needs to really pull through with phasing out cage eggs internationally.
Lidl also supports the implementation of animal welfare standards for fishes in aquacultures, which we applaud and rewarded with a bunch of points. However: Just like Aldi, Lidl needs to make an effort to seriously end the sale of cage eggs internationally immediately. We also want to see them rethink their positioning regarding gestation crates for sows.
With less than 20% of the maximum points possible, Rewe is the leader of the losing squad. What we did like is that for the first time the company has drafted a comprehensive animal welfare policy. We also rewarded Rewe’s commitment to improving the conditions of fishes in aquacultures and the decision to work with the »Five Provisions and Welfare Aims«. Rewe initiates a lot of pilot projects whose scopes are limited. If Rewe implemented several of these projects for their entire product range of own brands this could have a big impact.
Real is one of the few retailers that have publicly announced to eagerly expand and improve their vegan range in stores, which got them a bunch of points. What we really miss in their policy? Currently, an extensive set of measures to improve the conditions under which all farmed animals are being raised is nowhere to be found.
Disappointingly, Edeka – a cooperative organization of many independent retailers – only published bits and pieces of its full internal animal welfare policy, prompting us to place them seventh based on the measures disclosed. Referring to its independent members, Edeka claims that the publication of their more extensive internal policies would harm competition. In the parts of the policy we did get to look into, Edeka scores with making efforts for fishes in aquacultures and ceasing to use cage eggs in the processed products of its own brands.
Norma also bases its animal welfare policy on the »Five Provisions and Welfare Aims«. We were especially impressed by the company’s clear stance on alternatives to insufficient neutering practices for piglets – they specifically endorse boar fattening and immunocastration (see below for more details on piglet castration). Norma has further started to draft some goals and measures for other animal groups and various other topics but does not show enough boldness when it comes to putting them into practice.
Netto has apparently not yet drafted a full animal welfare policy and has only published a few scattered statements regarding various animal welfare related topics on its website, such as an incomplete ban of cage eggs. We are disappointed and had really hoped for more!
Another retailer that needs to make some major changes: Bela has not published a comprehensive animal welfare policy and all categories are in desperate need of a makeover.
Just like the companies before this poorest performer, Globus has no extensive policy for its animal products. The few points Globus did gather were scored by having an incomplete cage-free commitment. In 2020, a major company like Globus should really be able to do better than that.
Selected Topics in Depth
Ending beak trimming for laying hens
There is still a common misconception that by ending beak trimming for laying hens the problem has solved itself. Unfortunately, because of the deficient conditions under which chickens are being raised, this is not the end of the road – they cause great stress to the animals, leading to a multitude of serious behavioral disorders like feather pecking and cannibalism. The end of beak trimming will only be an animal welfare success when the general conditions in stables are no longer so daunting that chickens hurt each other.
In some of the policies we reviewed, companies advocate for real improvements in pullet rearing. We commend Lidl who is most firm: the discounter intends to take action and sets a good example by highlighting the most pressing issues and how to tackle them.
Chickens raised for meat
In this particular category, companies were able to score big if they had already joined the European Chicken Commitment . With this set of requirements, we are fighting the most severe issues concerning the conditions that chickens raised for meat (so called »broiler chickens«) are living in. Sadly, the only retailer winning a few points here was Tegut and we could not even get too excited about that because the commitment applies to only one of the retailer’s store brands – but we are optimistic: Tegut is currently considering applying the requirements to all its own brands.
There is a wide consensus across the animal protection movement that the only way to effectively end the painful castration of piglets is the implementation of boar fattening or immunocastration. These methods are minor procedures in comparison to their currently practiced alternatives – castration without anesthetization (or with local or general anesthetics, the success of which heavily depends on professional execution). We are firm believers that these methods would alleviate a lot of suffering and therefore gave out the most points if a company was clearly endorsing these procedures. In turn, we deducted points if a policy favored surgical castration with general or local anesthetic.
Big minus: Overall-winner Tegut is not up to speed with this particular issue and plans on continuing with painful surgical procedures instead of implementing boar fattening or immunocastration. On the bright side, Lidl, Kaufland and Aldi have drafted some goals and intend to give immunocastration a go – even though their intentions to take action are non-binding, we still honor their approach and are looking forward to seeing the first results.
Sows in gestation crates
Probably the most appalling was the negligence of this category: only a handful of companies were even mentioning gestation crates in their policies and there are no clear courses of action – barely even vague ones. If any of these companies want to be taken seriously when declaring their intentions to make a difference for the animals, they need to start addressing this issue.
In this category we took inspiration from a list of priorities to improve animal welfare standards in dairy cow rearing set up by several German NGOs. The measures outlined in this paper strive to improve conditions for dairy cows by putting an end to the use of tethers, slaughter of pregnant cows and zootechnical procedures, such as dehorning.
The companies ranking first through fifth are much more intent on getting things off the ground in this category than the rest, with Tegut and Kaufland leading the winning field. The policies of Aldi, Lidl, Kaufland, Real and Tegut are most precise regarding the use of tethers but do not look beyond their own brands. Disappointingly, all of the companies seem to be struggling with demanding a full abolishment of tethers.
Fishes in aquacultures
We have been working on the improvement of animal welfare standards in aquacultures since 2018. Back then, we started an initiative that is now being supported by various players, from retailers to scientists, from associations to government bodies. We are quite pleased that six of the retailers in this ranking are part of our initiative and are participating actively – which we rewarded with a bunch of points. Rewe and Edeka suffered small deductions for not announcing their participation publicly in their policies.
As thrilled as we are about these first steps in the right direction, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done and the commitments now need to get put into practice.
Negative lists and other topics
While analyzing the negative lists published by the retailing companies, we took an especially close look whether they clearly renounce the sale of products that come from particularly cruel production practices. Some examples of that are lobster, foie gras and fur. Tegut, the winner of our ranking, really convinced us with a thorough list, closely followed by runner-up Aldi. Placing last in this category, as in the ranking, is Globus.
As part of our final category, we examined, for example, whether the companies plan to drop products from the lowest legal standards. Several German retailers have teamed up to introduce an industry labelling system to make this information more transparent for customers. We have urged the retailers for a while that the lowest label category, which only asks for the minimum legal requirements and gives no additional benefits to the animals whatsoever, should get eliminated and replaced by the second step. Lidl, Kaufland und Rewe are supporting this development, but only with non-binding goals. We were just as displeased with the companies’ lacking intentions of expanding their vegan product ranges. The guidelines proposed here are non-binding and rather vague. The only two winners in this category are Tegut and Real, both of which are stating their efforts to push for more vegan options in their stores.
German retailing companies have a huge purchasing power and as is widely known: with great power comes great responsibility. They have an enormous influence on which animal welfare standards will be improved in a large fashion all across Germany. Unfortunately, these big players are not fully living up to their responsibilities just yet.
There have been a couple of great developments in recent years. Many of the retailers have drafted and published animal welfare policies. It is now time for the next big step: their implementation, improvement and documentation so actual progress for animals can take place. The scope needs to be expanded to all products of all own brands. For real impact, pilot projects need to be implemented on a large scale across the entire range of products.
We will be right there with the companies to examine, evaluate and rank their efforts again in two years.
How did we evaluate?
In summer of 2019, we asked the largest German retailing companies (by revenue) to send us their latest publicly available animal welfare policies. We abstained from researching documents, websites or other sources on our own. The policies were up to date as of October 2019.
The companies were able to collect points in 14 categories: 12 groups of farmed animals, negative lists and general topics. The categories were weighted depending on various factors (yearly German revenue and number of animals in each group of animals).
We evaluated the implementation of the measures found in the policies – for full implementation, retailers received full points. Additionally, we assessed the scope of measures: The policies applying not only to store brands but the entire range won the most points. A company’s total score per category (in %) shows the ratio to the maximum number of points possible.