Audits Are Key To Credible Animal-Welfare Program

If you want to prove you’re treating animals humanely, then set clear and measurable standards, avoid fuzzy language in audits, and let independent observers from the outside world see what you’re doing.

That was the advice that renowned animal behavioural scientist Temple Grandin delivered to the recent Animal Welfare Forum held at the University of Alberta.

The Colorado State University professor has earned an international reputation for creating a scoring system which has become the gold standard in U.S. meat plants.

“The principle is that you come up with a few things that you’re going to measure, and score them very heavily,” Grandin said.

The simple scoring system helped change handling in the plants, as employees knew exactly what they had to do. The system, which uses many of the same principles as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program, was also designed to help prevent standards from slowly declining over time.

“What you have to do is prevent bad from becoming normal,” she said.

When writing standards, avoid words such as “proper,” “adequate” and “sufficient” since they have no measurable meanings and mean different things to different people. Standards and guidelines need to be written in a way that doesn’t allow different interpretations. And they should be constructed so the top 25 per cent pass, so standards of care are raised and the industry improves, she said.

Operations must pass all criteria in order to pass the audit. For meat plants, the criteria includes the percentage of animals stunned correctly, the percentage rendered insensible, the percentage subjected to an electric prod, the percentage that vocalize, and the percentage that slip or fall.

SYSTEM NOT ENOUGH

Once you have an audit system, you have to want it to produce results.

“You manage the stuff that you measure,” said Grandin. “One of my big frustrations as a livestock designer was that you can put in a nice system, but there are a lot of clients who didn’t operate it properly.”

Having a simple set of rules helps ensure different auditors will apply them in the same way, but Grandin also favours audits that focus on things that can be observed with the human eye, rather than paper-based ones. That also helps when bringing in outside inspectors – another practice she strongly supports.

“Every place needs to get somebody visiting it at least every year,” she said.

These people can be independent third-party auditors or a representative of a company, and Grandin is also a big supporter of video auditing.

“To be effective, video auditing has got to be monitored by people outside the plant, or outside the farm, in a structured way,” she said.

Grandin recommends outcome- based measures to track positive activities while auditing farms. Auditors can look for, and score, measurable conditions such as how many animals are skinny, are lame or have foot problems, are excessively dirty, or have poor coat condition. Lameness is an excellent outcome measure, since it can be used to track many things that are going wrong on a farm, such as poorly designed stalls or foot diseases, she said. Ammonia levels can also be measured and the presence of abnormal behaviour such as tail or ear biting can also be used to audit animal welfare on a farm. Any practices deemed inhumane should be forbidden.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for the Glacier FarmMedia publication, the Alberta Farmer Express, since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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