Bon Appetit’s CEO Fedele Bauccio says animal welfare is part of his comprehensive plan for sustainable agriculture. (Michael Williamson/The Washington Post)

If you need more evidence that Bon Appetit Management Co. is working to reshape American agriculture, here it is: The food-service giant announced today that it will source all of its loose ground beef and patties — more than a million pounds a year — from suppliers that meet strict animal-welfare standards.

“I’m out to change the industry, and I want to be able to influence the big players to change their practices,” says Fedele Bauccio, CEO and co-founder of Bon Appetit Management, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

By Sept. 1, every one of Bon Appetit’s 500-plus cafe or catering facilities in 32 states will serve ground beef and hamburger patties from suppliers that have been certified by one of four independent animal-welfare organizations. The independent certification is key to Bauccio, who has seen the cruelty that can take place when an industry relies solely on a system of self-regulation and government oversight. He points to the animal cruelty and potential food safety problems documented at Central Valley Meat Co. in a recent undercover video. (Warning: The video is graphic.)

“They brag about their own standards,” Bauccio says about large-scale farms and high-volume slaughterhouses. “Their self-regulation doesn’t really work, in my opinion. Rather than rely on them, I’d rather rely on independent groups.”

Bon Appetit’s ground-beef initiative is the latest step in the company’s plan, announced back in February, to source at least 25 percent of its meats by 2015 from suppliers certified by one of four humane programs: Animal Welfare Approved, Food Alliance, Humane Farm Animal Care and Global Animal Partnership.

More than 405,000 pounds of Bon Appetit’s ground-beef purchases in 2011 — roughly 33 percent of the 1.2 million pounds the company bought last year — had already been certified by one of the welfare groups. And now Bon Appetit will be sourcing the rest from Meyer Natural Angus, based in Colorado. The Meyer Natural Angus line has been certified by Humane Farm Animal Care, notes Bonnie Azab Powell, director of communications for Bon Appetit.

Powell writes in an e-mail that Humane Farm Animal Care, according to CEO Adele Douglass, requires “traceability from birth to slaughter and spot-inspects at several points along the way.” What’s more, Humane Farm Animal Care conducts complete inspections of at least 10 percent of Meyer’s farms and ranches annually, each selected randomly.

The animal-welfare group also inspects feed lots and slaughter plants to make sure they are complying with the standards established.

To Bauccio, animal welfare is about more than making the livestock comfortable before slaughter.

“I think it’s part of the promise that we give to our customers,” he says. ”I think animal welfare is a huge piece of sustainability, not only because I think it’s the right thing to do, but because our customers are asking about the animals. . . . It’s the right thing to do in terms of creating a new model for agriculture.”

“Where there is good animal husbandry,” Bauccio adds, “I don’t have to worry about people getting sick from what they buy.”

In the same breath, Bauccio says he’s not looking to destroy large-scale farming operations. “I used to think that we could do this with regional food sheds,” he says. “I now know that . . . we need the large farms to be able to produce the kind of food we need to sustain us.

“I’m not trying to get rid of [large farms],” he adds. “I’m trying to change their practices.”

Further reading:

* Bon Appetit announces animal welfare reforms