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WASHINGON - The Food Marketing Institute and National Council of Chain Restaurants on Thursday unveiled their first comprehensive guidelines for the humane treatment of farm animals, recommending that farmers curtail such practices as starving hens to make them lay more eggs, housing pregnant pigs in crates so small they cannot fully lie down and slaughtering some animals before they are fully unconscious.
The guidelines, under development for two years, are voluntary and are to be used in conjunction with the animal welfare guidelines of individual producers and processor organizations that contributed to the report. Supermarket chains such as Safeway and Kroger, who have already felt pressure from activist groups such as PETA (People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals), have been awaiting the guidelines, which they have pledged to support.
"This is the first time that the retail industry has clearly said the issue of farm animal welfare is important to it, and to that it wants to make sure these issues get serious attention," said Karen Brown, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute, in an interview with The Washington Post.
"This is a front-burner issue for the industry now," she said. "We want to be proactive, and not wait for the time people are knocking down our doors about it."
The recommendations were endorsed by seven leading animal welfare specialists who had been brought in by the trade associations to review the guidelines used by the pork, egg, chicken, dairy and beef industries for the treatment of farm animals.
Some producers have expressed resistance to the guidelines, however, saying it is unclear how they would be followed and enforced. Additional guidelines will be presented in October.
PETA officials called the new guidelines "revolutionary" in their reach, but in many cases less stringent than those already accepted by such companies as McDonald's, which was the first major company to require suppliers to meet animal welfare standards and to "audit" the suppliers' performance.
"It is historic that the entire grocery and chain restaurant industries have agreed that there are practices that are standard in the meat industry, yet clearly abusive of animals," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA's director of vegan outreach. He said that the country needs animal welfare legislation, like some of the stringent laws enacted in Europe, but that the food industry is resisting strenuously.