“Animal Welfare’s Importance to the Food Chain—Turning Challenges into Opportunities” was the theme of the Animal Agriculture Alliance's third annual Stakeholders' Summit held this week.

Jeff Armstrong, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, began the meeting by discussing the United States' perspective of animal welfare’s importance to food quality and food safety. He emphasized that taking a proactive approach to animal welfare should not be confused with “caving in” to activists. Armstrong said a major problem that the industry facing in pursuing animal welfare research is that so few scientists are working in the area.

The conference's keynote speaker, Philip Clemens, chairman of Hatfield Quality Meats, discussed how the food industry can advance animal welfare, be progressive and still stay in business. Clemens challenged the industry to take what he terms a “mirror check” and to keep in mind that failure to change could have drastic consequences, as it has for other industries and companies that have failed to adapt to changing business conditions. He challenged the industry not take the “we've never done it that way” approach, while pointing out his concern about the animal rights groups' hidden agendas. Clemens emphasized the importance of a coordinated communications message, involving the entire food chain—from farmers to veterinarians to processors to grocers to retailers—because “we have a great story to tell.”

A session with Temple Grandin, Colorado State University, and Kellye Pfalzgraf, Tyson Foods' animal welfare director, discussed new initiatives in animal welfare. Grandin discussed the importance of a scientific approach to animal welfare emphasizing that it is critical to “manage what you measure.” Pfalzgraf talked about Tyson’s animal welfare initiatives throughout the food chain and how the company is moving to address its customers’ concerns.

Paul Cheek, president and chief executive officer of Global Technology Resources, announced a new food-traceability program that can pinpoint origin and destination of products in the food supply. The technology tracks food from point of origin throughout the production and distribution channel, ending with the consumer’s table. This service also catalogs products at various points along the supply chain, including farm, ranch, processing plants, transport vehicles, storage facilities, supermarkets and restaurants. If a contamination incident is reported in the supply chain, the system automatically provides information on the product's origin, location and destination.

Cliff Becker, group publisher, and Kevin Murphy, marketing manager, of Vance Publishing's Food Systems Group, gave a presentation illustrating their belief that food-chain stakeholders strengths lie within their willingness to communicate with customers. However, they indicated that lack of communication among food-system members is a weakness that can lead to a confused, easily misinformed, customer. They cited specific examples of companies vulnerable to attacks and said that future marketing plans need to include issues marketing, in addition to traditional brand marketing and corporate-image marketing.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is a broad-based coalition of individual producers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer/processors, allied industry and retailers, whose mission is to support and promote animal agriculture practices that provide for farm animal well-being through sound science and public information.

For more information on Animal Agriculture Alliance, go to its Web site at www.animalagalliance.org

Source: Animal Agriculture Alliance