When you’re out at brunch on the weekend, it’s always reassuring to look over the menu and see that higher welfare options are available. Whether it’s cage-free eggs in your Eggs Benedict or humanely-farmed chicken on your burger, it’s great to be able to enjoy your meal knowing that you’re supporting a business that prioritise animal welfare.
So what makes a restaurant or café decide to offer higher welfare choices in the first place? It won’t surprise you to read that farming animals in a way that allows them to have a good life requires more resources and labour than more intensive production systems. This cost is reflected in the product’s higher price point, in turn making it more expensive for venues to source for their customers. But for those that care about the journey from farm to table, this is a price worth paying.
Matt Howe and his brother James are the co-directors of Three Beans, a café with more than 20 different locations across Sydney. The Three Beans menu includes RSPCA Approved free-range eggs, RSPCA Approved free-range chicken and higher welfare pork.
“There will always be a hesitation on the business side as high welfare standards are more expensive than low standards,” says Matt. “Animals do experience the same emotional responses that humans do, they show joy, fear, anxiety, hunger, pain and stress. So why not make their lives better?”
Before Three Beans
Matt worked for McDonald’s in the UK and was very much involved in rolling out their humane food initiatives. He says that the experience that really put animal welfare into perspective for him was visiting a battery cage facility. Following McDonald’s UK switch to free-range eggs, the team was taken to visit a number of free-range farmers as well as a cage egg farm.
“The place was spotless and at first it was difficult to actually see any chickens,” he recalls. “The overwhelming sense was the silence in the facility. The chickens were not vocalising, it was bloody strange and quite frankly a little creepy.”
From then on, Matt made it his business to educate himself on the world of food supply, taking members of senior management on farm visits.
“Many people had no idea how food got to the table,” he says. “I was shocked by intensive agricultural systems for chicken and pork production. In these systems at the time, animals were treated as though they had no emotions or natural behaviours.”
Making sourcing higher welfare a priority
Upon returning to Sydney to join Three Beans, Matt made sourcing higher welfare products a priority, carefully researching his options.
“We approached our selection with a healthy dose of scepticism,” he explains. “I had seen how businesses had made claims of higher welfare without delivering it. In the UK, farmers were claiming to be free-range egg producers, but in reality they had built double storey hen houses with minimal openings. They could argue that birds were free to roam but it was difficult for them to get out of the houses.”
When it came time to choose farmers to work with, the Howe brothers looked closely at factors such as stocking densities for hens and meat chickens and whether pigs were raised or born free range.
“We really looked at the claims the suppliers were making and whether any independent body actually checked their claims,” Matt says. “We needed to be sure that we were actually buying what we thought we were buying.”
Matt wanted eggs from farms where the chickens were able to roam and do the things they like to do. Not only did Rohde’s Free Range Eggs meet this brief, the fact that the South Australian farm was part of the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme meant that the Three Beans team could be confident that the welfare standards they sought were being met.
The business also went on to source RSPCA Approved chicken from Mt Barker Free Range Chicken in Western Australia.
“Mt Barker took longer to partner with, we needed to be of a size that made it viable for them to supply Three Beans,” says Matt “Luckily we have grown to a size that allows us to buy from them.”
The café also uses higher welfare pork from Borrowdale, sourced from a family run farm in Queensland that allows their pigs to forage and express their natural behaviours.
While buying in bulk has allowed the Sydney business to save on some fronts Matt says that purchasing higher welfare eggs and bacon from interstate companies is more expensive.
“At the end of the day it’s what we stand for, so it’s the cost of doing business.”
While Three Beans is proud to offer ethical food at their outlets, Matt believes that ultimately it’s consumers that will drive greater change in the higher welfare space.
“If consumers are educated around food production and they demand higher welfare standards by buying higher welfare product, then a business has to respond or it will fail,” he says.
The RSPCA Choose Wisely initiative makes it easy to find venues putting humane food on the menu. Simply type your postcode into the search engine and you’ll be able to see which restaurants and cafes in your area are offering higher welfare options.