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Tim Hortons tackles animal housing

A look inside the changes and what they mean for Canadian livestock producers

Posted: June 7, 2013

There's no question Tim Hortons Inc. has taken a bold step by setting specific, aggressive targets to work with its industry partners and suppliers to transition to new sow and hen housing systems.

It's a game changer for Canadian pork and egg producers – one that sets a new bar on farm animal care demands and raises a wave of questions and challenges on the logistical and practical hurdles ahead.

But the move is one the iconic company makes confidently as it takes charge of the issue amid a quickly evolving new world of expectations for restaurant chains and other food retailers, says Tim Faveri, Director of Sustainability & Responsibility.

Consumer trends, big chains driving changes

"We know our guests are showing a much greater interest in their food - not only where it comes from but what's in it," says Faveri. "That's part of a more recent trend in Canada and North America that has been ongoing in Europe for decades."

There are many components to this interest, whether specifically related to food or other aspects of sustainability such as product life cycles or supply chains, he says. "Now it's also animal welfare. It has been fascinating in recent years to see just how quickly animal welfare has really come to the forefront."

Not only has there been a spike in animal welfare interest but in the last 24 months the industry has seen a steady stream of large scale animal-welfare related commitments, in particular by some of the major U.S. and global restaurants chains. "When the big global companies put out commitments the whole industry needs to take notice," he says.

Navigating uncharted waters

Tim Hortons identified animal welfare within its overall sustainability strategy many years ago, he says. Since then, the company has been increasingly active in learning, as well as in working across the industry, to prepare for today's new expectations.

"We're always mindful that we're at one end of the value chain. There are many steps, all the way back to the individual producer of the food, and we're all in this together. The steps we've taken are based on the discussions and planning we've done with our partners and suppliers to make sure they're realistic and achievable."

Big focus on realistic timeframes

In its recently released Sustainability and Responsibility Report, Tim Hortons affirmed its call for the pork industry to eliminate gestation stall practices. It stated that by 2022 it will source pork from suppliers who have made a transition to alternative open housing.

The report also affirmed a goal of purchasing at least 10 per cent of the Tim Hortons egg supply, representing significantly more than 10 million eggs, from enriched hen housing systems by the end of 2013, with plans to progressively increase this commitment over time as additional supply becomes available.

"For sow housing, the 2022 date came back as a realistic, balanced target that in our discussions with suppliers we felt our supply chain could meet in that timeframe," says Faveri. "With the eggs target, we're on track to meet our 2013 goal and we're going to build from there."

Tackling economics and getting ahead of challenges

Particularly in the pork industry, the very challenging economics many producers have faced was an important part of the discussion of what was realistic, says Faveri. "While there's pressure to make changes soon, we also needed a reasonable adjustment period. We know there will be challenges in financing and also in the retiring of old housing systems, but we're confident there will be enough of a supply to meet our targets."

Like with any business issue there are going to be leaders, followers and those who are further behind, he says. But no one can afford to stand still.

"We want to be proactive on the issue rather than planning reactively," he says. "In our discussions with the supply chain we believe the industry is on the right path of evolution and innovation and that gives us the confidence to make these commitments."


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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