JBS boosting animal welfare practices at Brooks plant

Food safety put the former XL Foods beef plant in the news, but new owners JBS USA will also be bolstering animal welfare oversight at the Brooks facility.

“Animal welfare is a school zone — you don’t speed through school zones,” Lily Edwards-Callaway, who oversees the company’s animal welfare systems for pork and beef, told attendees at the recent Livestock Care Conference in Calgary.

“It’s a top priority for JBS.”

In addition to having staff on the plant floor monitoring workers and watching for signs of animals in distress — something the company calls biased audits, video cameras are used for two other types of audits. Unbiased audits are conducted by staff observing through the cameras while remote video audits are conducted by a third-party company, Arrowsight. The audits are key to ensure company standards are being met when it comes to things such as unloading cattle or using prods, said Edwards-Callaway. Those doing the audits also watch for slips and falls, and other signs of problems in animals.

Audits are conducted daily and Edwards-Callaway checks on the numbers, figuring out differences between the three different kinds of audits and checking in with the plants on a weekly basis. She showed examples of plants’ auditing numbers and how they shifted over time, thanks to influences such as new staff members, training or other factors. The numbers do show people forget occasionally that the cameras are there, she said, but putting focus on the audits helps to address any issues.

The effort is not only a way to combat criticism of slaughter plants, but makes workers feel good about their jobs, said Edwards-Callaway, adding JBS’s animal-handling standards are set above those of the American Meat Institute.

Pork plants typically have about 27 cameras and there are about a dozen in beef plants. Edwards-Callaway can get live camera access via the Internet, and a viewing screen in the corporate office shows scenes from cameras in the various plants.

The monitoring is also key to improving standards because employees, and sometimes individuals, are given feedback on things flagged by the daily audits.

It’s become part of their everyday operation, Edwards-Callaway said.

“If something’s not working, stop and tell someone,” is the message given to employees, she said.

In a followup interview, Edwards-Callaway said cameras will be installed in the Brooks plants.

“We don’t have a timeline for it yet, but we’re working with the vendors to figure out next steps,” she said.

“We’re on the same program in terms of what we’re auditing, how many head we’re auditing. They just don’t have the cameras yet.”

She said she expects the move will be well received by the Brooks employees.

“It’s a real pleasure working with them. They’re willing to change, adapt,” she said.

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