Marriott joins humane food bandwagon -- Gazette.Net


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Marriott International is the latest company to phase out what it considers inhumane animal practices in the food supply chain for its restaurants.

The Bethesda hotel owner and manager announced last week that it will require all of its U.S. pork suppliers to discontinue the use of gestation crates, in which sows are placed during birthing cycles and that prevent them from so much as turning around. The requirement is to kick in by 2018.

Also, the company said it will ensure that all U.S. eggs and egg products come from cage-free hens by 2015. Its JW Marriott luxury brand started the transition to cage-free hens in 2011.

The Humane Society of the United States in Gaithersburg has been working with companies to persuade them to adopt such practices, said society spokesman Josh Balk.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to make the food we serve at our restaurants more sustainable,” said Marriott spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein. “A lot of our suppliers have already gone in this direction. It’s definitely a trend in the industry. People are paying more attention to where their food comes from.”

She said Marriott is giving its suppliers deadlines so they have time to switch to more humane practices at a manageable cost. In the past, many suppliers have had problems with their sources, which drove up costs that then had to be passed on to Marriott guests, Goldstein said. Marriott wants to avoid these passed-on costs as much as possible, she said.

Marriott has more than 3,700 properties in 74 countries and reported a nine-month net income of $631 million in fiscal 2012 on revenues of $8.1 billion.

Nearly 50 food companies are pursuing such practices, according to the human society.

Sodexo of Gaithersburg, a national provider of food and facilities management, in July started phasing out gestation crates from its food supply chain and aims to finish by 2022.

“Sodexo is a company committed to strategically partnering with our clients to meet their consumers’ needs. We source products that meet stringent requirements for a wide range of factors, including value, nutrition, safety, quality, environmental impact, and animal welfare,” Deborah Hecker, Sodexo vice president of sustainability, said in a statement at the time.

Sodexo has required its pork suppliers to provide plans for the transition by 2017. In 2010, Sodexo launched a Sustainable Seafood Initiative, which includes a commitment to having 100 percent of its fresh and frozen contracted seafood certified as having best aquaculture practices and using the most efficient fish-processing system. Marriott also adopted this initiative several years ago.

“Creating a more sustainable supply chain that includes best practices in animal welfare is extremely complex for any business where the strategic sourcing priority is to serve specific client needs. It is further complicated by the fact that Sodexo is not directly involved in the care, management or processing of farm animals,” Jim Pazzanese, Sodexo vice president of supply management, said in a statement in July.

Balk praised both companies and others that have joined the movement, calling it a team effort between the humane society and businesses. Many businesses started phasing out gestation crates in 2012 after fast food giant McDonald’s adopted a similar policy.

“It demonstrated throughout the food industry that humane practices in the food supply chain should be a top priority,” Balk said, adding that the humane society wants businesses of all size to realize they can do this. “It caused an earthquake in the industry.”

Every time Americans have been given the opportunity to vote against the use of gestation crates, they have done so in “overwhelming numbers,” leading to bans in Florida, Arizona and California, he said.

“It’s not a sustainable business practice to continue to buy from suppliers using outdated practices,” Balk said.

He said most of the largest restaurants in the country use eggs from cage-free hens and that Sodexo already has switched hundreds of millions of its hens to cage-free hens.

Safeway of Pleasanton, Calif., with Northeast headquarters in Lanham, began phasing out gestation crates in May.

Giant Food, which has regional headquarters in Landover and is owned by Dutch supermarket giant Royal Ahold, also is committed to the welfare of animals, Giant spokesman Jamie Miller wrote in an email to The Gazette.

“We work with the most reputable suppliers to source safe and affordable foods produced with respect to the humane treatment of animals,” he said.

Giant is not listed on the humane society’s time line of companies that are phasing out gestation crates or switching to cage-free hens.

Marriott also engages in other sustainable food practices such as having kitchen gardens at many of its hotels and using local food sources, Goldstein said.

lrobbins@gazette.net