Australian supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have been encouraged to do better after appearing in a global animal welfare standards report for the first time.
The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) report ranks global food companies on their farm animal welfare standards based on publicly available information.
Woolworths and Coles (Wesfarmers) appeared in tier 4 and tier 5 respectively, with tier 1 being the best, and tier 6 the worst.
Companies may be performing better in real terms than their ranking indicates, but need to do more to report on their efforts.
World Animal Protection (WAP), which worked closely with Compassion in World Farming and Coller Capital to build the report, said its aims were to improve animal welfare policies, while also encouraging greater disclosure — which in turn can encourage others to act.
WAP head of campaigns Nicola Beynon said the benchmark judged everybody in an objective, standardised way, based on information made available on websites and annual reports.
"This is the fourth year of the benchmark report and we have found that during the course of the assessment for those companies who have been involved from the beginning, they have moved up the benchmark because they have made their policies publicly available," she told the ABC.
"Or maybe there has been a initiative to improve animal welfare, for example like Coles and Woolworths have made a commitment on close confinement.
"They [Woolworths and Coles] are making commitments on specific animal welfare issues but what we're looking to see is comprehensive animal welfare policies addressing all issues associated with their operations."
A Coles spokesperson said it was not asked to provide detail on its programs to BBFAW.
"The business benchmark was based entirely on information available on Coles and Wesfarmers' websites and not on the programs or policies that we implement with our suppliers and the producers in our supply chain," they told the ABC.
"We take animal welfare very seriously and are proud of the numerous programs we have been the first to lead in Australia such as sow stall-free pork and cage-free eggs."
The spokesperson said Coles would continue its close work with the RSPCA and Animals Australia and use the report to make sure information was reaching the public.
"Coles will review the feedback from BBFAW to ensure that we are providing adequate information on our websites to our customers," they said.
But Ms Beynon said Wesfarmers was approached for the report.
A Woolworths spokesperson told the ABC its animal welfare commitments could be found it its Corporate Sustainability Report.
"Animal welfare is an integral part of Woolworths' responsible sourcing strategy and we know it is important to our business and our customers," they said.
"In fact Woolworths is the only Australian retailer to make information available on the increasing popularity of products in our supermarkets with high standards of animal welfare."
They added there was "still more to be done".
Commitment noted, clarity needed
BBFAW director Nicky Amos said it was evident Woolworths and Wesfarmers recognised animal welfare was a relevant business issue, but needed to provide clarity around their policies.
"We note in particular their commitments to the avoidance of close confinement of some animal species — with all Coles brand eggs being cage-free and all fresh pork and local and imported ham and bacon being sow stall-free," Ms Amos said.
"And Woolworths' commitment to sourcing 100 per cent cage-free eggs by the end of 2018.
"In future we would expect both companies to set out their positions on key welfare issues — such as the use of growth promoting substances, the prophylactic use of antibiotics and maximum journey times for live animals."
Ninety companies were included in the 2015 assessment.
Fast-food chain McDonald's appeared in tier 2, Subway and Nestle appeared in tier 3 and Aldi and Fonterra appeared in tier 4. Target appeared in tier 5 and Domino's Pizza Group in tier 6.
Some of those companies had appeared in previous years.