Customers want animal welfare: Coles

Coles told me today, that their push to stock only hormone-free, free-range meat is a marketing ploy. “It’s what consumers want!” Woolworths will not be following suit.

Would you walk over it?

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper admitted to being swayed by consumer demand on animal welfare. “You bet!” says he said today, answering  claims that their move to hormone-free, free-range meat is a marketing ploy. “It’s what consumers want!”

But he dismissed claims made by some meat producers on this site that the exercise was a “cynical ploy”.

“By far the majority of calls and customer responses we get to any issue – including price cuts, or what products we stock – is animal welfare. People want hormone-free, ethically reared, free-range animals and the calls and feedback on this issue never stop.

He told me that: “Initially we chose hormone-free meat because of the taste and quality,” a point which renowned chef, owner of Rockpool, Neil Perry, passionately agrees with.

“But it was clear from our switchboards that consumers wanted the whole deal, hormone-free, compassionately-raised animals, sow stalls phased out, but they don’t want to have to pay more. So we are listening and not passing on costs to them rather absorbing it ourselves.”

And it’s working. Last month Coles owner Wesfarmers reported a seven per cent rise in quarterly sales in its supermarket chain as reported in the Media.

Jump in Sales at Coles

Coles managing director, Ian McLeod, said: ‘‘Coles has responded by removing added hormones in our beef, moving to phase out caged eggs by 2013 and moving to phase out sow stall pork by 2014. Higher levels of trust in quality and sourcing programs have been rewarded with higher levels of fresh food sales as a result.”

A spokesman for Woolworths, Benedict Brook, told me that their strategy was not to switch to hormone-free meat rather offer consumers a choice to buy it in a limited range. He said that Woolies strategy to slash prices of regular meat was also leading to higher sales of meats across the board, and that at this stage there was no need to change focus. I referred him to our comments.

Because as most of the 600-plus comments posted on this website have indicated, animal welfare is an issue that consumers feel very strongly about. And many — including myself — are prepared to vote with their feet over! Especially as consumers become more educated about the ethical and health issues involved in meat rearing.

As one blogger wrote, “If you can get ethically-raised, hormone-free meat at a similar price, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Mr Cooper dismissed claims by some farmers on this site that Coles is imposing rules on the local industry that it does not impose on overseas suppliers of smallgoods.

“Firstly 100 per cent of our fresh beef, chicken, and pork are from home grown sources. Smallgoods make up perhaps 20 per cent of our total meat sales and of this we take a percentage from abroad. As for where we are getting our meat from, there are all sorts of spurious claims, but the vast majority comes from Europe and Canada where they are already phasing out sow stalls. We have asked them to comply with the same standards we are giving the local industry – to phase out sow stalls by 2014. Added hormones (HGPs) are already banned in Europe.

Coles buys 6 per cent of all local meat products per year, which is why the issue is of significance to the farming industry. But Cooper says: “With regards to us imposing onerous conditions on our industry, it’s simply not true. Coles has in fact been working closely with producers over the past two years to ensure there was a system that was equitable and did not cause any damage to their businesses.

“We acknowledge producers’ claims that it costs more to produce hormone-free meat and we have come forward with an offer to pay more for their meat, and not pass the cost on to consumers.”

I would like to hear responses to this story, especially from the farming community and our producers who have contributed significantly to this debate – Ruth Ostrow

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36 Responses to Customers want animal welfare: Coles

  1. melissa rimac 26 November 2011 at 12:18 am #

    Hi Ruth,

    I’m surpised at this comment from you re Peter’s concern about Halal + Kosher slaughter

    “Your post smacks of racism I’m afraid, and maybe you don’t mean it to, but it is a offensive to Jews and Moslems to post something that is completely against the ethics of both religions” ..

    What a kneee- jerk, more holy than thou reaction.

    Just because something is claimed to be a ‘ cultural practice’ should not shield it from scrutiny. And where the suffering of other beings is concerned, the more scrutiny, the better.

    Insisting that animals bleed to death …. ?? I’m at a loss as to how this will contribute to spiritual enhancement.

    It’s also been claimed that mutilating womens genitals is essential cultural practice, along with other abhorent practices …..
    Would you call people who challange such views ” racist’ etc?

  2. Dianna 24 May 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    Thank you #27 Steve,
    You speak to the spirit of the matter.
    Plants offer everything we need in great abundance. Every animal is a sentient being.
    All slaughter houses need glass walls.
    Albert Einstein wrote that human violence will continue while we kill and consume animals.
    The voiceless ones need our compassion.

  3. Judy 23 May 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I’m so glad that Coles are taking steps for animal welfare.
    BUT when they say pasture reared, does that mean they are also excluding any meat from animals that are ‘finished’ in feedlots? I am cynical re the marketing spin!

    And I totally agree Peter re Halal and Kosher practices!

  4. Rob 22 May 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Peter,
    I have no faith in Daff to do anything worthwhile or practical.

    I know what I saw and was told and I suggest that practical arrangements have been worked out for everyones benefit including the animals -here and now in Australia

  5. Peter Gerard 21 May 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Rob, animals killed by the Halal or Kosher technique are not unconscious at the time of slaughter. After the throat cut it takes up to 20 seconds or more for the animal to become unconscious due to blood loss. During this time they can feel pain and be very distressed. As far as I know the only abattoirs where this process is carried out are in Victoria[ 4] and Western Australia[1].
    If you want to read about the scientific studies regarding this go to the DAFF[ Department of Agriculture, Fisferies and Forests] web site where their are two very detailed studies on this type of slaughter.[ Animal Welfare Science Centre , ‘A Scientific Study on the Welfare of Sheep Slaughtered Without Stunning’ and , 2009; and Animal Welfare Branch of DFAFF, ‘ Specifying the Risks to Animal Welfare with Livestock Slaughtered without Induced Insensibility’, 2008].
    The other odd thing is in the DAFF’s Model Codes of Practice, revised in April 2007, it states, in summary, that cruelty caused to animals by various husbandry practices, should NOT be taken into account when framing legislation. What sort of oxymoronic situation is this where codes of practice for animal welfare don’t include the need to consider pain caused to the animals?
    We have politicians and government bodies who regard the suffering of animals raised for our food as of little importance and tip- toe around these issues twice a year at the Primary Industry Ministers Council.
    They prefer to put the freedom to carry on with longstanding cultural practices, ahead of preventing cruelty to sheep, goats and cattle destined to be slaughtered for human consumption Where is the compassion and morality in that?.
    All I ask is that ALL animals in Australian abattoirs be treated equally humanely by stunning them BEFORE slaughter. This is the fair and decent thing to do. And any meat from the Halal and Kosher processes should be labelled as to its form of slaughter to give customers the choice to buy it or not.

  6. Ruth Ostrow 21 May 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Thanks Rob where is Roger? ALways like to hear from him on these issues.

  7. Rob Moore 21 May 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    I will stand corrected but I have seen through quite a few Abottoirs in Aust only and I am fairly sure that they are all state of the art -highly mechanised efficient and Definately all animals get an electric shock which renders them unconscious.

    Over the last 20 years -70% of the smaller works have shut down due to regulation and economy of scale etc.

    Because the muslim come halal market is so huge I think that you will find that all companies employ a muslim representative qualified to satisfy the ritual- as in bleeding the unconscious animal as it comes in on the chain. So in reality we are all eating halal meat.

    I am very comfortable with our setups but cannot be responsible for what goes on overseas. I personally need meat for strength and protein- if you don’t Gerard- stop giving me a guilt trip and trying to muddy the waters on the whole industry!

  8. Ruth Ostrow 21 May 2011 at 12:26 am #

    Thanks Peter, I have just heard from another reader who confirms your view. Obviously i am very sensitive about it because I did at least have faith that there was one form of slaughter that honored the animals, but perhaps it was only what we were taught by our spiritual leaders, good in theory but not what actually happens in practice. It is all too barbaric and brutal for me. i don’t know how I grew up normal, having been surrounded by this sort of discussion all my childhood, but I guess it speaks for itself that i ended up as an animal welfare advocate with two ethical vegetarian sisters. My father was a passionate animal lover in private. The schism of his living such a dualist life has never left me.

  9. Peter Gerard 21 May 2011 at 12:14 am #

    I do not regard my coments as racist , anti- Islamic or anti-Jewish, my concern is solely in regards to the cruelty of ritual slaughter, which involves the killing of the animal while it is still conscious . Australian regulations require that all animals slaughtered in Australian abattoirs be rendered unconscious before their throats are cut and this eliminates all pain and most of the terror. An exception is made in the case of ritual slaughter based on the UN Convention on Civil and Politcal Rights. I disagree with the interpretation of that convention.
    I wasn’t aware of your background Ruth but respect what you say and agree that the animals killed by ritual slaughter are treated with respect, unfortunately this doesn’t alleviate the pain and terror of the procedure ; prestunning eliminates all pain and most of the terror and is best practice.
    If I needed to have a surgical procedure involving a skin cut of about 12-15 cms[ roughly equivalent to the size of a throat cut in a sheep being slaughtered] and was given the choice of having it done with an anaesthetic or without I know what my choice would be. Sheep, goats and cattle don’t have that choice.
    This procedure is condemned by most animal welfare groups, but apart from the RSPCA and Animals Australia, not openly.
    In respect to the marketing of meat from ritual slaughter, that which is excess to the needs of the those who consume Halal and Kosher meat products, is not labelled specifically when it is distributed to other retail outlets. If you wish to clarify this issue speak to the manager of Primesafe, Victoria who I spoke to a few months ago. Such practice happens in the UK [ look up Animals Australia/religious slaughter or go the web site of the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council.
    Some farmers I’ve spoken to say they shoot their animals with a .22 rifle before slaughter or some may share a collectively owned captive bolt[ this practice is recommended by the DAFF Codes of Practice].
    What do farmers do who are following this discussion?

  10. Ruth Ostrow 20 May 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Thanks for this Steve, I am with you on the horror of all slaughter. It’s just that the law behind Kosher and Halal are to be compassionate. We all know what happens to laws and to values in our Narcissistic society. But the original aim was pure, and I know that my father went to great efforts to keep the rabbi’s who visited his abbatoir happy because they had such high standards with regards to these matters. Perhaps it’s just one story from one abbatoir a long time ago, but good to acknowledge that there are still ethical intentions out there even if they get trampled on eventually by the ways of the modern world.

  11. Steve 20 May 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    Dear Ruth: I believe that you are misinformed both about the production and distribution issues involved with Kosher and Halal meats.

    As to process: whilst I certainly do not think that Kosher and Halal should be singled out as particularly cruel (and Jews and Muslims should certainly not be the discriminated against), I also think that it is wrong to characterise them as “compassionate” methods of slaughter. I have seen the process both in the US and UK and it’s pretty horrible and, in my view, not significantly distinguishable from conventional slaughter. All slaughter is terrible.

    As to distribution: I do not know the situation in Australia but in the US and UK (and I have lived in both places), meat slaughtered in conformity with these traditions is often sold to the general public. This is not any secret; indeed, it’s been the subject of media coverage in both countries.

    Again, I do not think that this should matter to anyone who eats meat in that I see no real welfare difference between traditional slaughter and Kosher/Halal slaughter.

    The more interesting question is why we think it’s morally acceptable to eat animal products at all. We do not need to eat them and they are probably killing us (but they certainly are not needed for health) and animal agriculture is more responsible for global warming than is the use of fossil fuels for transport, not to mention the effects of animal agriculture on water, soil, etc.

  12. Steve 20 May 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    The difference in the treatment of animals between ‘ethically sourced’ meat and conventional meat is, as a practical matter, meaningless. The animals we consume–however ‘humanely’ they are treated–are subjected to significant amounts of pain, suffering, and distress. This ‘happy meat’ approach is all about us feeling better; it’s not really about our moral obligations to animals.

    We really cannot justify our behaviour of eating animal products. We inflict suffering on and kill animals because they taste good. We really do not have a better justification for it than that.

  13. Ruth Ostrow 20 May 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    Come on farmers and producers we need to hear more from you!

  14. Ruth Ostrow 20 May 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    Yes Eatmore, he has offended me too. Please read my reply above! By the way Kosher is spelt this way not with a c, and thanks for challenging this stupid claim.

  15. Ruth Ostrow 20 May 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Dear Peter you are sadly and dreadfully misinformed. Kosher and Halal meats are the most compassionately killed meat possible, adhering to strict laws of being as kind to the animal as possible. The knife is particularly sharp so as to end life swiflty as opposed to other slaughter practices which can prolong suffering and death. Furthermore the animals are prayed for before and after death and also thanked for giving their lives, and believe me there is no one doing that at regular abbatoirs. As you know I am a journalist, and you may not know I am the daughter of a man who used to produce Halal and Kosher meat for the specific markets as well as meat for general consumption here and in the USA. Succinctly put he owned abbatoirs and was involved in the industry for decades. I do not condone the killing of animal for food, but if one were to eat meat, then this is way is the most respectful. Your post smacks of racism I’m afraid, and maybe you don’t mean it to, but it is a offensive to Jews and Moslems to post something that is completely against the ethics of both religions. As for flooding markets, excuse me!? Kosher Halal meat is the most expensive meat there is as a result of these arduous practices that require rabbis and holy men to be in the abbatoirs at the time of the killings to ensure that things proceed according to ethical laws. Therefore they are not distributed all over the place … they are too damn expensive!

  16. eatmorebeef 20 May 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Peter Gerard, Please post evidence of excess Halal and Koscher meat being distributed without proper labeling into general outlets. This should be exposed as was Coles and Woolworths selling mislabeled imported produce whereby they were both fined.

    Oh, and Peter? I am a proud primary producer and I don’t shed ‘crocodile tears’. Your comment is offensive and juvenile.

  17. Ruth Ostrow 20 May 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Sorry guys it has taken me so long to moderate I am making a documentary on this issue to be posted on line here soon. Thanks for your responses and keep em coming.

  18. Peter Gerard 20 May 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Amongst all the correspondence regarding animal welfare considerations in the realm of food production two issues haven’t been mentioned.
    Firstly the cruel practice of ritual slaughter to produce Halal and Kosher meat products[ look this up if you doubt the cruelty involved] and secondly the fact that excess meat from this method of slaughter is being distributed, without proper labelling into general retail outlets. The meat is suitable for human consumption, but shouldn’t it be labelled as to its source?

  19. Peter Gerard 20 May 2011 at 11:47 am #

    Coles [ and Woolworths] are to be lauded for their moves in support of more humane treatment of animals that we raise to supply us with food. They are responding to the many thousands of letters they recieve from concerned customers and if their commercial advantage is somehow enhanced by these changes, does that matter. It is the animals, who are at last recieving some attention in regards to their welfare , who matter most. The farmers are constantly shedding ‘crocodile tears’..they will just have to adjust.

  20. eatmorebeef 20 May 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Very well explained,Rob. Even before Coles introduced their HGP promotions gimmic I never lower myself to buy their meat. High, consistant quality meat is rarely (if ever) achieved by Coles for the pithy amount per kilo that they’re willing to pay the producer or go to the trouble of sourcing beefers of quality to ensure their customers os tender and taste.

    Ruth, The term livestock is a form of brainwashing?….where did you pluck that from????……The term ‘livestock’ is the proper name for domestic animals. It is used often by many – the ATO for eg will ask it when I’m doing my annual stock report so they can formulate a value on them in preperation to tax my arse. That was only 1 example.

    Jo-Anne, you may well of asked your veterinary father that question. Unless he is a canary vet he should explain the term ‘livestock’ in far more detail than I.

    As for this Coles HGP free debate. I would rather eat a quality/tender steak from a prime steer with an HGP implant than stick a hormone patch- HRT- on my arm because I feel a hot flush every now and then. I feel my health would be far more at risk with menopause Hormone Replacement Therapy than eating HGP beef.

    And please people, Cattle are not FED hormones.

    Thank you and Regards to All.

  21. Rob Moore 20 May 2011 at 11:24 am #

    “It is such a motherhood emotive Q about whether we want to eat Happy animals- of course we do.”

    I suppose this seems a bit morbid and should be the meat from happy animals- same as crematoriums don’t burn humans- they dispose of corpses,

    I read this morning that Woolworths have had their best 2 months sales in two years also- it is the discount price rather than anything to do with hgp’s that have boosted Coles as well. Most at the expense of the local butcher shops

  22. Maureen Malone 20 May 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Hi Ruth, I always enjoy your columns. Yes I certainly would change grocery shops. However lets not forget about antibiotics given to the animals we eat and the dangers in this practise. Let one of the majors be brave enough to source organic free range pork, beef, chicken (as opposed to Woolies brief experiment with the deceptive ‘ bred free range’ pork and we’ll be on our way.

  23. Ruth Ostrow 19 May 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Hello Rob, nice to have you back. Would love to hear your views on this one!

  24. Rob Moore 19 May 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Hello Ruth,
    I know this supermarket game all too well- have sold to both of them in the past.

    Coles have been slightly less fussy on breed type and weight and have usually paid us producers 10 cents per kg less as a result.

    I have black cattle and have gone with Woolworths to get the extra. Both companies sell premium young animals that are well under two years old .Both companies only finish them in a feed yard for the last 70 days out of a 500 day life. They are looked after well here and I believe that the people contracted to feedlot them do a very good job for either company.

    These pommie Ceo’s that have come out to run Coles are full of gimmicks- this HGP is one , the 1$ milk is another. I don’t personally use hgp’s but also have no fear of them either.

    It is such a motherhood emotiveQ about whether we want to eat Happy animals- of course we do.

    How’s this for hippocracy. Tasmania has had a no hgp rule for years a friend of mine from there was telling me recently.

    He assured me that Coles never bought a single beast due to the extra freight costs.I know that not too long ago that they both were sourcing cheap cattle in WA and paying huge frieght bills rather than pay us close producers more than the going rate of $1.60 per kg liveweight

  25. Ruth Ostrow 19 May 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    I can’t explain it. But I think it has something to do with using the word “livestock” instead of animal. It is a form of brainwashing where people can distance themselves emotionally from the suffering of a creature that they would otherwise love. But yes I would also like to hear people’s views on why the human species is capable of such a schism.

  26. jo-anne Baker 19 May 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Ruth as the daughter of a vet, and a woman who passionately loves animals, I can’t understand how people can have one set of rules for their pets who they dote on and love, and one set of rules for the creatures they call livestock. If people had a lamb or calf as a pet it would be adored. Please can you or someone else explain this anomoly to me?

  27. Ruth Ostrow 19 May 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    I didn’t and don’t undervalue farmers and meat producers. I went out into the countryside during the worst drought, drove up to Roma and lived with farmers on the way for a couple of weeks. i have every sympathy and every compassion for our growers of all things and am so so grateful to be living in Australia eating our food after travelling around South America and Cuba recently. And by the way if you read the posts on the One Man’s Meat story earlier and Ian Lean responds, you will notice that a lot of the supporters of free range, hormone free meat are indeed farmers. It is a complex issue and it is not accurate to put a dividing line down the centre like this, nor helpful to intelligent debate.

  28. Brian 19 May 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I’m not a farmer just a person who thinks they get a bad rap and are very undervalued. Like your earlier story on Animal Land rights. I hope they do come forward and give you a serve.

  29. Ruth Ostrow 19 May 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Me too Meredith and Moses. It’s funny turning from hard core journalism which I have done for 31 years to blogging whereby I can give my opinion so freely. But there you have it, in case people didn’t already know 🙂 But I will be voting with my feet unless there are changes across the board.

  30. Ruth Ostrow 19 May 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Yes Brian I have just put a call out in orange at the end of the story for farmers and producers to come forward. It is because of you guys that I rang Coles. Some of you made the point that the current regime is unfair whereby Coles does not require the same rules as Overseas suppliers as it does of local producers thus putting pressure on you all.
    So enter the debate and tell your friends. I think Coles have given a very good explanation. Do you?

  31. Ruth Ostrow 19 May 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Hi Roslyn, I am trying to tell it like it is, and yes its a complex issue. But regardless of whether or not Coles is in it only for the bucks, the that fact they are amending policy based on consumer pressure is a huge huge win for those of us who want our food as natural, fresh and ethically produced as possible in these dark days of Food Inc and multinationals ruling the world.

  32. Brian 19 May 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    What about Farmers guys? Perhaps you are forgetting who really feeds you!

  33. Roslyn 19 May 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    You all have rocks in your heads. The whole Coles fiasco is about dollars. They may have done a clever marketing ploy by bowing to customer demands but to announce so blithely that they are pushing animal rights is not only a beat up Ruth it is unworthy of an esteemed journalist like yourself and but smacks of niavity. Just tell it like it is

  34. Samuel 19 May 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Yes Moses I like the “no space” arguement. Has anyone driven around this country lately?

  35. Meredith 19 May 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Hey Moses, I am with you.

  36. Moses 19 May 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Yes, I am changing supermarkets. I can’t believe anyone would want to eat a lesser quality product if they can have a better quality one for the same price. And cut the crap guys, how could hormone fed beef taste as good as free range, animals that can wander use their legs, breathe in oxygen, feel contented, eat grass. There is just no justification for the pushing of hormones to consumers. And by the way at this time, there is plenty of grazing land in Australia.

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