Walmart: New animal welfare, antibiotics positions

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International retail giant Wal-Mart—along with one of its units, Sam's Club—on Friday laid out a new position on issues of animal welfare and the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The company said in a statement that it plans to "implement practices consistent with the Five Freedoms," citing the Farm Animal Welfare Council's list of five guidelines the agency says are key to maintaining the general welfare of animals nationwide.

Wal-Mart's new positions emphasize selling "sustainable" products, promoting "transparency" in its relationships with suppliers, and addressing concerns over responsible use of antibiotics in animals. The retailer also asks suppliers, specifically, to "report and take disciplinary and corrective action in cases of animal abuse."

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Tyson Foods, one of Wal-Mart's meat suppliers, announced last month its intention to eliminate the use of human antibiotics in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017.

"Based on today's announcement, we believe Walmart's priorities align with ours," Tyson told CNBC in a statement.

"Usually, the main purpose of the antibiotics is not only to prevent and cure animal diseases, but also improve their growth rate. But the use of the antibiotics in animals have led to public outcry," said Dong Ahn, professor of animal science at Iowa State University, and whose primary research includes poultry meat products.

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Ahn said opposition has come from the fear that antibiotics in animal meat can be transferred to, and adversely affect, the humans who eat it.

The use of antibiotics in livestock is decreasing, said Ahn, and conditions "these days" are closely regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and the companies who produce the meat.

"If animals are not raised under those conditions, the stores are just not going to take that meat," said Ahn.

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"I think it's a big deal for Wal-Mart to take a position," said Jason Apple, professor of meat science and muscle biology at the University of Arkansas. Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, approximately 30 miles north of the university.

Wal-Mart has not set in place deadlines for the changes it is asking of its suppliers, the company told CNBC in an e-mail.

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"Its transparency is key. We know the average consumer wants to know where their food comes from, and they want to have that connection that it's raised right," said Apple, who also works with the American Humane Association and has raised cattle for much of his life. "Over time, we have seen a shift in areas that [production] can be better."