Proactive vs. reactive: Bob Evans Farms takes stand in nationwide animal welfare debate


Q: How do you define animal welfare?

A: Bob Evans Farms recognizes its responsibility in defining animal welfare,Dr. Sommer Mueller, DVM, director of Food and Safety and Regulatory Affairs for Bob Evans Farms said.

“We expect all our employees and suppliers to treat the animals properly. We take a holistic approach. It’s not only the well being of the animals, but we also keep in mind our stakeholders, suppliers and the consumers.

“It means so many different things to so many people in different sides of the industry using animals as food products, so we hold everything to humane high standards, and do in keeping with the USDA standards.”

Q: Are farmers/suppliers embracing the idea of animal welfare?

A: Yes. Bob Evans has been in discussions with suppliers about the subject of animal welfare, and, Mueller said, they (suppliers) are willing to commit to the high standards the restaurant chain set.

“Producers — 95 percent of them have shared a written policy with us and they had it written before we asked,” said Mueller. “Producers expect it to be followed by everyone on their farm.

“Farmers are definitely taking it more seriously.”

Q: Why is animal welfare jumping to the forefront of issues facing the livestock industry?

A: Mueller said Bob Evans Farms, producers and the people between the restaurant and farms are beginning to understand the urgency of getting the message out to the public.

“They want to tell consumers they are doing the right thing,” she added. “They understand consumers want to know where their food is coming from.”

Farmers are telling their own story. In return, more consumers will learn and understand and know where their food is coming from.

“The better farmers become at telling their story and who they are,” said Mueller, “the more consumers will understand. We all need to get our voice heard.”

Bob Evans created the Bob Evans Animal Well-Being Committee in 2008.

The committee consists of Mueller; Anna Butters-Johnson, assistant professor in animal behavior and well-being at Iowa State University; Janice Swanson, professor and director of animal welfare at Michigan State University; and representatives from the company’s supply chain. In addition, Candace Croney has filled a vacant seat on the committee. She is an associate professor of animal behavior and bioethics in the department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the Ohio State University.

The committee’s purpose is to ensure the well being, proper handling and humane harvest of all the animals that provide products for Bob Evans Farms.

“Part of the committee’s purpose is to make sure we are making the right choices, getting the word out and getting the consumer to understand where their food comes from,” Mueller explained.

The animal welfare movement is encouraging consumers to know where their food is coming from, but the agricultural industry has always been focused on it.

“It’s not a new issue. Farmers have always wanted to do the right thing,” Mueller said.

Q: What are some quick tips you would recommend to livestock producers to follow in their management practices?

A: Tips are hard to specify, Mueller said, because each individual operation, and each species, is different from another.

“It comes down to one simple thing — doing what is right,” Mueller said.

She suggests farmers follow the quality assurance programs set forth by the pork and beef producer associations, and to follow Best Management Practices recommendations, and emphasize humane care for animals at their operations.

Q. What can livestock operations do to get connected with the public and educate them, in an effort to fight back against the negativity spread by animal activists?

A: Mueller suggests farmers use traditional media to get the word out, but also use social media. Don’t be afraid to use Web sites and social media such as Twitter.

Producers need to do more to tell the farm story, she added.

“The responsibility doesn’t just fall on the producer’s shoulders. It has to fall on everyone,” said Mueller. “They are doing a much better job at the getting the message out, but more can be done.”

Food is a hot topic.

“This is the opportune time to tell the story of agriculture,” she said.

Q: What else would you like the public to know?

A: Bob Evans is committed to doing the right thing, but it has to be balanced, just like everything else, Mueller said. Ethics, economics and science has to be in balance.

“Remember, Bob Evans started out as a farmer, so it is important to us to keep farming alive,” she added.


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