Let's Talk about Sodexo's New Animal Welfare Standards.

Food vendor Sodexo announced yesterday that it is expanding its commitment to better animal welfare standards.  News of the proclamation filled me with questions, such as: 1) what exactly is Sodexo?  2) are their products sold in New Orleans?  3) what are the new standards?  and 4) do they change the company enough that I'd be willing to purchase its (vegan) products?  With the internet at my fingertips, here's what I've been able to determine.

1. What is Sodexo?
You find the derndest things on
Google image search.
Sodexo is a large, multinational, multi-billion-dollar corporation that describes itself as a "global player in food services."  According to its website, "Sodexo’s comprehensive, integrated solutions cover a wide range of services in a variety of working and living environments. We contribute to enhancing employees’ well-being, optimizing work processes and ensuring the proper functioning and safety of sites for companies, hospitals, university campuses, correctional facilities and large worksites."  But what the eff does that mean, you may be asking?  Practically, it means that the company provides services within other large businesses: vending machines, cafeterias, laundry facilities, and so on.  Ahhhh.  Light is beginning to dawn.  I knew that name sounded familiar.

2. Are their products sold in New Orleans?
Over the past three years I have spent far too much time hanging out in hospital waiting areas scavenging for food.  So I can tell you that every area hospital has both vending machines and cafeterias filled with "food" that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  (I have frequently looked on in horror as doctors - doctors! - ate from them.)  But are they supplied by Sodexo?  Yes, most definitely, at least at Ochsner facilities (which is most of them).  They're all up in Loyola's dining services.  And given the size of the company, and the fact that it seems to have offices all over the city, it probably has a finger in many other institutions around town.

3. What are the new standards?
In 2013 Sodexo released a five page position paper on animal welfare, and has now issued an infographic to accompany its statement on new standards it will adopt over the next five to seven years.  Let's take a look, shall we?

If we bullet-point it, they're moving toward:
  • eggs from "cage free" hens
  • no gestation crates for pigs
  • (pain relief for and maybe eventually) no castration, or tail docking for pigs
  • no veal crates
  • (pain relief for and maybe eventually) no de-horning, tail docking, or castration for cows
So... what does this actually accomplish?  It depends on your school of thought.  If you're a hardcore animal welfarist, this is great - because better is better, right?  If you're an abolitionist, though, this is a complete mockery.  On the welfarist to abolitionist spectrum I fall somewhere in the middle, so sometimes for me better is better.  But this... doesn't seem much better at all.  To wit:
  • So-called "cage free" hens might be a bit better off than those in battery cages, but they still live miserable crowded lives in conditions that are terrible for them and the workers alike.
  • Taking gestation crates out of the equation is great, but ignores that even non-mama pigs barely have enough space to move around - often around 11 square feet.
  • Using analgesics to remove body parts is a cute idea... but they're still removing body parts for no reason but to keep animals in too small a space.
  • Taking away veal crates is splendid, but the alternative isn't much better than the crates - they're still separated from their mothers, may not get to nurse, and are obviously still slaughtered at a very young age.
In the end, every one of the animals is slaughtered - and I am in fact of the opinion that there is no such thing as "humane" slaughter.  (Here's a link, but beware - there's some graphic pics.)
4. Do they change the company enough that I'd be willing to purchase its (vegan) products?
Overall, the scant benefit that animals will experience from these changes does not improve my opinion of this Sodexo and its products.  That they supply food for hospitals is nothing short of terrifying.  Far more drastic revisions would need to occur to earn my applause... not that anyone is necessarily looking for them.

This effort strikes me as little more than a PR stunt in response to public pressure.  All I can say is, let's keep the pressure on.  This is a step in the right direction, and that's how journeys start right?  But it's just one step in a journey of many, many miles.  Let's give them a brief "thumbs up for trying," and then make sure that Sodexo and other companies like them don't get the impression that one step is good enough.

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