The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) has released its 2014 review of how the world’s leading food companies are communicating on their farm animal welfare policies.

The Benchmark ranks companies on their farm animal welfare management and reporting. This year, it has ranked 80 companies, placing them in categories from Tier 1, indicating that companies are taking a leadership position, to Tier 6, where animal welfare does not appear on the business agenda.

The Benchmark is funded by animal welfare organizations Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection and investment company Coller Capital.

The U.K.’s Marks and Spencer and Switzerland’s Coop Group retained their Tier 1 position for the second year running, joined by the U.K.’s Waitrose, which climbed two places from Tier 3.

In Tier 2, for the second year running, were the U.K.’s The Co-operative Group, J Sainsbury, Noble Foods and Anglo-Dutch Unilever, with the U.K.’s Cranswick up two places and McDonald’s and Switzerland’s Migros both up one place.

U.K. companies performed well, representing 9 of the 24 companies in the top three tiers.

How US companies were rated

This year’s report includes 20 companies headquartered in the United States, including Walmart, Tyson and Costco, some of which have been included in the evaluation for the first time. Overall, U.S. companies lag behind their European counterparts in reporting on farm animal welfare, the report suggested.

No U.S. companies have made the highest tier. However some U.S. food companies have established systems for managing and reporting farm animal welfare. For example, companies such as HJ Heinz and Hillshire Brands are starting to respond to the growing interest being paid to the food industry to on farm animal welfare issues by publishing information about their approaches.

Emerging markets fare well in survey

Food producers in emerging markets, as defined by the report, are similar to, if not better than, their peers in the developed markets. In fact, the world’s larger meat producers – BRF, JBS and Marfrig in South America and WH Group, which owns Smithfield Foods in China – all appear in Tiers 3 and 4.

Mike Baker, CEO at World Animal Protection, said: “Consumers increasingly care about where their food comes from and are demanding a better life for farm animals. While it is encouraging to see a growing number of companies in this year’s Benchmark with stated commitments to animal welfare, there is clearly still much room for improvement.”

About the assessment

The 2014 findings reveal that 45 percent, or 29 of the 65 companies assessed worldwide since the first report in 2012 have moved up at least one tier, however, the study’s findings raise a number of concerns.

For example, key welfare issues, such as close confinement and long distance live transportation, remain under-reported, the Benchmark’s authors say, with the majority of companies having no clearly stated position on their commitments in relation to these issues.

In total 80 companies were included in the 2014 assessment. The companies represent three primary food business sectors, food retailers and wholesalers, restaurants and bars, and food producers and manufacturers. Companies were measured on their approach to managing farm animal welfare in three areas, management commitment and policy, governance and policy implementation, and leadership and innovation. The assessments were based on information published by the companies.

A number of drivers are encouraging companies to examine and report on welfare. Food scares, such as the horsemeat scandal, have not only forced companies to look more closely at issues such as food provenance, traceability and quality, but have also led to them becoming more transparent on the management of their supply chains. For example, 28 of the companies assessed not include farm animal welfare in supplier conditions.