Animal care standards on the horizon

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REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio – Daren Brown vividly remembers a hurried trip his parents took to the Ohio State University veterinary hospital with a young heifer that had a broken leg. The calf rode in the comfort of the pickup truck cab.

A farm native, Brown knows firsthand farmers are dedicated to taking care of their livestock.

As manager of quality assurance for Wendy’s International, Brown also knows firsthand that consumers are concerned about the food they eat.

Do the right thing. It’s Brown’s job to see that the “do the right thing” philosophy of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas continues to guide the company as it considers the animals that ultimately end up in the chain’s restaurants.

Brown shared Wendy’s animal welfare program and audit details during a Feb. 25 symposium conducted by the Ohio Livestock Coalition. The industry event was held at the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s headquarters in Reynoldsburg.

Growing trend. Animal care guidelines are cropping up all over the place, from producer organizations to end users like Wendy’s.

The idea is to create guidelines that ensure animals are raised and processed under high standards of animal care. Producer guidelines focus on on-farm animal care; processor standards make sure animals are handled and euthanized humanely.

“Farmers have to have an increasing awareness that they are being watched by their customers, by consumers,” said Paul Sundberg, assistant vice president with the National Pork Board who also addressed the Ohio symposium.

“That’s a difficult thing to swallow,” Sundberg admitted.

Whose standards? The food chain – from farmgate to consumer plate – is now struggling to agree upon animal care standards. The result is starting to look like a patchwork of guidelines and audits.

Of the fast food giants, the Big Three – McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s – are each operating under a different set of animal welfare guidelines.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is finalizing its own set of standards, as is the United Egg Producers, which controls 90 percent of all eggs produced in the United States.

Restaurants, grocers involved. The National Council of Chain Restaurants and the Food Marketing Institute, which represents the grocery industry, are jointly creating a third-party, independent animal welfare audit program, with input from the animal food industry among others.

The goal is to have the audit program available in 2003.

There is no indication, however, that everyone will embrace what NCCR and FMI come up with.

The organizations reviewed the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s draft guidelines last September, but gave them back with some suggested modifications.

Likewise, the NCCR/FMI advisers are still haggling details with the National Pork Board, particularly guidelines on confinement of gestating sows.

Bottom line. Conducting audits, verifying compliance and participating in auditing programs isn’t cheap, although none of the speakers at the Ohio symposium were willing or able to put a pricetag on animal welfare standards.

Likewise, none of the speakers could say how the programs could be funded, and whether the ultimate cost gets passed forward to consumers, or backward to the producer.

Those questions may not be enough to stop the trend, however. The Canadian province of Manitoba has already made a code of farm animal practices mandatory.

Daren Brown acknowledges pressure on fast food chains is heavy from animal rights activist groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but he’s quick to clarify that Wendy’s is zeroing in on animal care because “it’s the right thing to do.”

“PETA is never going to be happy with whatever we do,” Brown said. “We’re doing these things because we believe they’re the right things to do.”

Voluntary vs. mandatory. Most of the standards created by livestock groups, such as the National Pork Board or the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, are voluntary. Standards created by restaurant chains like Wendy’s are not.

Wendy’s suppliers must train their employees and have a self-audit in place, in addition to the Wendy’s audit (see related article).

Producer reaction. Many livestock producers resent being told how they should care for their animals and view the animal care standards with suspicion.

“The work’s too hard, the hours too long, the weather’s too big a competitor for anyone to tell us we don’t care about our animals,” said Ohio cattleman Gary Wilson, who chairs the Cattle Health and Well-Being committee for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

At the Ohio Livestock Coalition symposium, Wilson blasted PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk for disguising a radical vegetarian philosophy as concern for animal welfare and for supporting eco-terrorism practices by the Earth Liberation Front.

“PETA must be regarded as a dangerous organization run by a very evil person,” Wilson said.

“If Ingrid was a cow on most farms, it’s safe to say, with that disposition, she’d be on the trailer.”

Show the science. Wilson admitted, however, that there’s room for improvement down on the farm, but hoped standards would be based on science.

“I think we’re at a crossroads,” Wilson said. “Is anything we do going to be good enough?”

Bernie Heisner, general manager of COBA/Select Sires and president of the Ohio Livestock Coalition board, said the issue of animal care will continue to face producers.

“We want to believe we’re doing the right thing,” Heisner said. “But it’s like a marriage; it takes some learning and it takes some listening.” Heisner said.


RELATED ARTICLE:

Wendy’s audits dictate size of layer cages, how many cattle should bawl

Wendy’s International follows its own animal care standards, created with input by internationally known animal care expert Temple Grandin.

By Susan Crowell

COLUMBUS – Wendy’s International has been building its animal care standards since 1993.

Its guidelines now cover the slaughter of beef, poultry and pork, as well as housing, transportation and holding facilities.

Wendy’s worked with internationally known animal care experts Temple Grandin from Colorado State and Bruce Webster from the University of Georgia to create its program, which continues to be refined.

Supplier requirements. Suppliers are audited at least twice each year and audits are both announced and unannounced.

Inspections are conducted by third-party inspectors and by trained Wendy’s auditors.

Last year, the chain conducted more than 100 animal welfare audits at suppliers in the United States, Canada and abroad. That’s on top of third-party audits also conducted.

“We have a lot of risk here,” said Daren Brown, manager of quality assurance for Wendy’s. “We’re not doing it just to go through the motions. We want control.”

Some of the things the restaurant auditors check at beef and pork processors include: the transporter; unloading facilities and procedures; stocking density of holding pens; handling; and final stunning.

The list is comprehensive, right down to the percentage of animals that should be prodded (less than 5 percent) and the number of cattle that should bawl, or vocalize, in the chute (less than 3 percent).

The five critical areas, Brown said, are prodding, vocalization, slips and falls, the stunning area and insensibility (kill area). Fail one of these areas in the audit, and you’ve failed the audit.

Poultry specifics. For poultry, Wendy’s is working with vertically integrated operations and has audit checkpoints starting in the hatchery, the grow-out barns and on up through the processing plant.

Laying hens must be housed in cages with a minimum of 72 square inches. And, as of the third quarter of 2002, all Wendy’s suppliers were to eliminate the practice of withholding feed to laying hens to induce molting.

Brown said the main focus through the audit process is actually increased awareness by processors and their employees. Errors on the audits typically stem from human error based on too little training or too little emphasis on animal care by employers, he said.

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