FarmCheck could be checking on you
By Doug Rich
Last October Tyson Foods unveiled FarmCheck, a new audit program designed to help ensure responsible on-farm treatment of animals. During the Cattle Industry Convention in Tampa, Fla., the Freedom to Operate Committee received a detailed explanation of this program from Dean Danilson, vice president of the Office of Animal Well-Being at Tyson.
"FarmCheck is about more than just sow crates and pigs," Danilson said.
Danilson said consumers are concerned about the quality of their food, the proper use of antibiotics, the use of hormones, the sustainability of production practices, and the welfare of animals in the production process. Tyson wants its customers to know that they care enough to check on the farm to see how animals are raised.
In a news release announcing the FarmCheck program Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, said, "We believe the farmers who supply us are the best in the world and I think the audits will verify this. But if we find problems, we want them fixed right away."
The FarmCheck program has four main components: animal well-being farm audits, animal well-being research, and animal well-being advisory panel and internal management structure.
Danilson said there are too many facilities that supply animals directly to Tyson for processing to check all of them, so the audits will be done on a random basis. Tyson works with more than 12,000 independent livestock and poultry farmers. This includes 5,000 poultry farms, 3,000 hog farmers, and 4,000 cattle farmers. Danilson said these audits are not about barns or equipment but about animal care and well being.
"Whatever the system is, are the animal being handled properly," Danilson said.
According to a Tyson news release, auditors will check on animal access to food and water, proper human-animal interaction and worker training. In the same news release Donnie Smith said these audits will give Tyson an opportunity to correct any minor problems and, if necessary, stop doing business with any farms where animal treatment or conditions do not meet their standards.
So far only hog production facilities have been audited, but Tyson will expand this to beef and poultry in 2014. To date only Tyson personnel have conducted audits, but the plan is to involve independent third-party auditors.
"Our customers are telling us we need to be out on the ground looking at how animals are handled," Danilson said.
During the question and answer session that followed Danilson's presentation, he was asked if the Beef Quality Assurance program Board could be used as the third-party verification in the FarmCheck program. Danilson said animal well being is only a small part of BQA while with FarmCheck their main focus is humane animal interaction. He also said BQA is a voluntary program that does not have teeth.
Members of the committee and visitors questioned Danilson about the makeup of the Farm Animal Well-being Advisory panel that is part of the FarmCheck program. A news release from Tyson said those selected to serve on this panel would include people with expertise in farm animal behavior, health, production and ethics. This panel will oversee FarmCheck research programs. Danilson said this would include what he described as non-governmental organizations experts. This would include animal welfare organizations.
"We feel as a company that we need a diverse group to give us an eyes wide open view," Danilson said. "It won't be just a bunch of beef and pork guys on the panel."
Speaking specifically about beef audits, Danilson anyone who sold directly to Tyson in 2012 will be in a pool from which Tyson will select names for random audits. This will include feedlots, auction barns where Tyson buys cattle, and specialty producers who provide Tyson with branded products such a source-verified or all-natural beef. Training materials and audit expectations will be sent to everyone who supplies product to Tyson.
"The four guiding principles of the Tyson FarmCheck program are: we care enough to check on-farm and in person; we are humble enough to seek expert advise; we are curious enough to find better ways; and we are committed enough to give it our full attention," Danilson said.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.