Smithfield Foods has released findings of an independent investigation in connection to a video released Dec. 15 by the Humane Society of the United States. The report addresses allegations made by HSUS of animal mishandling at the Waverly sow farms.

Dennis Treacy, Smithfield senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, said that as a result of the investigation, three Smithfield employees were fired for their actions which were contrary to the company's animal welfare policy. Treacy also faults the HSUS agent who "disregarded the welfare of animals in his care and violated Smithfield’s policies."

The independent investigastion was conducted by animal welfare specialists Temple Grandin, Colorado State University, and Jennifer Woods, J. Woods Livestock Services. Read the Grandin/Woods report.

Treacy summarized the findings of the expert teams :

1. The video images of flipping a young pig, striking/poking a sow with a metal gate rod and improper euthanasia of an adult sow depict unacceptable behavior; each of these acts was contrary to Smithfield's animal welfare policy and employee training.

2. Smithfield interviewed 177 employees at the farms and identified the three employees involved, and they were fired. This was appropriate and consistent with our zero tolerance policy.

3. The incidents noted in # 1 above were isolated occurrences, and the video does not show any other inappropriate actions or conditions.

4. All Smithfield farm employees, including the HSUS agent, received training in responsible animal handling and are expected to immediately report any suspected animal abuse.

5. The HSUS agent disregarded the welfare of animals in his care and violated Smithfield’s policies by (a) perpetuating abusive behavior by failing to immediately report it; (b) providing incomplete and vague information in his eventual hotline report, which obstructed the company’s ability to respond; and (c) participating in the ineffective attempt to euthanize a sow and allowing a live animal to be placed in a disposal box.

6. We at Smithfield employ a robust animal welfare system and we have zero tolerance for abuse.

The investigative teams also made five proactive recommendations. Treacy said Smithfield will immediately address each recommendation and continue to report the company's progress.

1. Review and update training programs and modes of delivery, including the addition of photographic charts for medical conditions. Murphy-Brown has already begun the updating process and the Animal Welfare Committee will be meeting in January to begin adding the photographic charts and other training materials.

2. Review and expand euthanasia procedures, handling tools, and health assessing by staff for training and policy. During their January meetings, Murphy-Brown’s Animal Welfare Committee will focus specific attention to this area and will utilize the best available experts in this field to make any needed changes to its training program.

3. Increase site visits by additional staff and corporate management. By the end of January, 2011, the Murphy-Brown production operations management team will develop the protocol for farm visits and initiate the process.

4. Develop and implement a program for unannounced animal welfare inspections/audits by third parties. As part of their January meetings, Murphy-Brown will begin the identification process and retain the services of a team of experts to conduct unannounced animal welfare assessments on company farms. This team will be directed to select farms at random for these inspections and will report its findings directly to the President of Murphy-Brown LLC.

5. Continue utilizing animal welfare committee meetings to review programs, policies, progression of conversions and assessments of all aspects of production. The Murphy-Brown Animal Welfare Committee will carefully review all the findings in this report and direct its full attention to assessing the adequacy and effectiveness of all the company’s animal welfare related policy, procedures, sow stall conversion process and all other aspects of live animal production.

"Smithfield Foods is continuing its efforts to eliminate gestation stalls from our sow farms despite what HSUS may lead you to believe," added Treacy. "We are maintaining our commitment, even through the recent recession, by continuing our engineering and planning processes. As we pointed out when we made our announcement to switch to group housing, the conversion will take time, money, manpower and equipment, as well as additional training for our farm staff to understand and address the unique challenges that come with keeping sows in groups, but we are committed to making the conversion."

"We at Smithfield Foods regret the recent incident and we abhor the actions of individuals who chose to ignore our policies. But I am pleased that this report demonstrates our transparency and commitment to animal welfare. That commitment is a journey of continuous and ongoing improvement."

Read the full report

Source: Smithfield Foods