The retail food industry’s long-awaited animal-handling and welfare recommendations for animal agriculture have been revealed. The Food Marketing Institute, representing retail grocers, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, representing retail foodservice outlets, released their report on June 27.
Presented here is an edited summary of the report as it relates to the pork industry. You can access the complete report, which also addresses laying hens, broilers, turkeys, dairy and beef cattle, at www.fmi.org.
June 2002 Report, FMI/NCCR Animal Welfare Program
This report overviews nearly two years of effort by the retail community working with an advisory panel of scientific experts in animal welfare to improve the care and handling of animals used for food. The efforts of Food Marketing Institute, the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the advisory panel are not complete. This report is one in a series meant to communicate the industry’s progress. This is not a stand-alone document; it is to be used in conjunction with animal-welfare guidelines of the producer and processor organizations identified within this report.
The issues addressed are important and complicated. Some recommendations have economic implications; some require an implementation timetable because they cannot be accomplished immediately. Some areas are still being researched to confirm that changes will enhance, not hinder, animal well-being.
Retailers, animal-welfare experts, animal-welfare advocates, producers, processors and the public share the common goal that all animals in agricultural production be cared for in a manner that accounts for their daily well-being and health. This means that in addition to having access to fresh water, feed and adequate shelter, animals in agricultural production must be kept in an environment designed to protect them from physical, chemical and thermal abuse, stress and distress. Managers and those responsible for handling these animals must be thoroughly trained, skilled and competent in animal husbandry and welfare. Animals must be transported in a safe and appropriate manner. They must be processed humanely.
FMI and NCCR have been working with independent, expert advisors and the producer/processor community to promote “best practices” for each species that will ensure animal well-being throughout production and processing. FMI/NCCR will continue to consult with experts in animal science, veterinary medicine and agricultural production to obtain objective, measurable indices for desirable practices in the rearing, handling and processing of animals for food. FMI/NCCR continue to urge appropriate Federal and state government agencies to enforce animal welfare protection laws.
FMI and NCCR merged efforts to further develop and support industry policies strengthening animal welfare with the following goals in mind:
- Consistency across the U.S. retail food sector.
- Implementation of practicable and attainable guidelines based on science.
- A measurable audit process.
- An ongoing advisory council of third party, independent animal-welfare experts.
- Improved communications across the supply chain on animal-welfare issues.
The FMI/NCCR Process
During the past 20 months, FMI and NCCR have met in person and by conference call with our respective retail member committees, independent advisors and producer organizations. Advisory experts have reviewed existing producer-based, animal-welfare guidelines, identified gaps and recommended specific additions and revisions. Working with the advisors, FMI/NCCR created three guidance documents that recommend the process, guideline content and audit components necessary to develop meaningful and effective animal-welfare guidelines.
In May 2002, the independent expert advisors met to review the guidelines submitted by the American Meat Institute, United Egg Producers, Milk and Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Center, National Pork Board, National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation. This report contains the recommendations of our advisors following that review process.
FMI and NCCR want to point out that this is a work in progress. It is important to note that some segments of the producer community are further along than others. Some have been working on this issue for quite some time, undertaking research, seeking outside counsel and revising guidelines as new information becomes available. Some segments of the producer community have begun their efforts more recently. This work is motivated by the strong desire of retailers and restaurants to enhance animal welfare.
Transportation and Slaughter Practices
Animals should be transported to processing facilities and unloaded in a manner that keeps them free from injury and distress. Animals that are not capable of entering a transportation vehicle should not be loaded onto the vehicle. Animals that cannot leave a vehicle on their own should be handled appropriately.
Animals must be processed humanely and in accordance with applicable Federal, state and local laws. Animals must be completely insensible prior to any slaughter procedures (with the exception of religious slaughter, which will be addressed separately).
NCCR and FMI support and recommend to their members that their suppliers use: The American Meat Institute’s slaughter guidelines, training materials and audit documents for cattle, swine, sheep and goats. These guidelines are generally appropriate for the slaughter of other mammals although minor adjustments for specific species may be necessary.
Breeding and Rearing
Animal agriculture is changing significantly as it strives to satisfy the needs of an expanding U.S. population. There has been a shift toward vertical integration and intensive commercial production. These changes have improved our ability to provide abundant, safe and nutritionally superior food at the lowest cost to consumers compared with any nation in the world.
The shift toward intensive commercial production has changed the environment in which animals are bred and raised. It also has led to a new focus on modern food animal production’s impact on animal well-being and on how their environment can be modified to support well-being.
The most challenging area for guideline development is the breeding and rearing of animals for food.
In some cases, for example, a focus on animal welfare suggests that structural changes in facilities that include increased space allocation may be needed. As FMI/NCCR address these issues in the guidelines, we identify areas where we know research is underway and where phase-in periods may be necessary.
Working with an animal-welfare committee that includes animal scientists, veterinarians and producers, The National Pork Board is in the final stages of developing a comprehensive set of animal-welfare guidelines and a “swine-welfare indexing system.” The index will be a tool to assess the welfare of the animal and will be applicable to all types of operations including all indoor and outdoor facilities using stalls, pens, pastures and other housing forms. NPB is funding several animal-welfare research projects, including five on gestation sow housing.
FMI/NCCR independent, expert advisors have identified a several issues they believe are important to address and NPB is in the process of addressing these. Work continues on the development of training materials and an audit process.
One of the more challenging issues facing the pork industry is confinement of gestating sows. Pork-industry guidelines include several enhancements regarding sow stalls, but the advisors challenge the industry to go further.
As a short-term measure, FMI and NCCR support enhanced pork industry guidelines regarding individual housing systems, including:
1. The pregnant sow should be able to lie down on her side without her teats extending into the adjacent stall. (This should not be achieved by compressing the udder with a wall, bar or other barrier.)
2. Her head should not have to rest on a raised feeder.
3. Her rear quarters should not be in contact with the back of the stall.
4. The pregnant sow should be able to stand up unimpeded.
The advisors have identified problems in both individual and group-housing systems used for gestating sows. Most individual housing systems (stall, tethers) prevent normal movement such as walking and turning. Many group-housing systems have the potential to foster aggression and unequal food intake. FMI/NCCR challenge the swine industry to develop an action plan for implementing
systems that will improve the welfare of pregnant sows.
The FMI/NCCR expert advisors will meet in late summer 2002 to review progress of the producer organizations that are still working on guideline revisions. Guidelines for religious processing also will be released.
NCCR and FMI are developing an audit system for the industry that will allow retailers to identify suppliers who are implementing recommended animal-welfare guidelines.
In October 2002, FMI and NCCR will issue another progress report.
FMI and NCCR will begin to review guidelines for veal calves and ducks late in 2002.
Source: Food Marketing Institute and National Council of Chain Restaurants.