October 12, 2012 – Tyson Foods has launched a program to audit the animal treatment at the livestock and poultry farms that supply the company.
“Our company is made up of ethical, responsible and compassionate people, and we believe the family farmers who supply us share our values,” says Donnie Smith, Tyson Foods president and chief executive officer. “We know more consumers want assurance their food is being produced responsibly, and we think two important ways to do that are by conducting on-farm audits while also continuing to research ways to improve how farm animals are raised.”
The audit program is called FarmCheck, which has already occurred on a trial basis on some of the 3,000 independent hog farms that supply Tyson Foods. Under the program, auditors visit the farms to check on such things as animal access to food and water, as well as proper human-animal interaction and worker training.
The Springdale, Ark.-based company has had the audit program under development since early spring 2012. Experienced veterinarians and animal welfare experts worked on the FarmCheck audit, which will include measures that build upon current voluntary farm industry programs. So far, Tyson personnel have conducted the audits, but the company plans to involve independent, third-party auditors. “To our knowledge, no other major U.S. meat or poultry company offers this kind of service to its farmers, customers and consumers,” Smith says. The goal is to add chicken and cattle farms to the program by January 2014.
“Here’s what I want people to know: at Tyson, we care enough to check on the farm; and we’re determined to help find better ways to care for and raise healthy animals,” Smith says. “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.”
Smith adds that the company will not do business with any farm where animal treatment or conditions do not meet Tyson’s standards. Tyson currently works with more than 12,000 independent livestock and poultry farmers. This includes 5,000 family poultry farmers, 3,000 family hog farmers and 4,000 family cattlemen.
“Tyson’s FarmCheck program is aligned with Walmart’s commitment to ethical sourcing, and shows leadership and dedication to addressing an issue all food suppliers and grocers face,” says Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of food, Walmart U.S. “We believe Tyson’s plan is a good model, and we strongly encourage suppliers without such programs to look for ways they can improve the way food is produced.”
The other part of Tyson’s efforts is to develop a new Farm Animal Well-Being Research Program. The intention is to review existing research as well as fund and promote additional research that the company believes will lead to continued improvements in animal raising methods.
“We want to identify and study the critical points – from breeding to harvesting – where the quality of life for livestock and poultry can be improved, and use the results to make a difference,” Smith says. “We know that content farm animals are healthier, and at Tyson Foods we want healthy animals.”
“Tyson should be commended for taking the initiative to develop and implement an on-farm auditing program,” says. Janeen Salak-Johnson, associate professor of stress physiology and animal well-being at University of Illinois. “It’s a step in the right direction and will help verify farmers are fulfilling their obligation to provide proper care for the animals they raise.”
Tyson has had an Office of Animal Well-being since 2000, but will add a new, external Animal Well-Being Advisory Committee to oversee the audit and research efforts. Committee members will include people with expertise in farm animal behavior, health, production and ethics, and is expected to begin its work in March 2013.
“To make a difference in the food supply chain, we must all work together. From the farm to the fork, we are committed to working with our suppliers, NGOs, government leaders and others to ensure the food supply system in place today is safe, sustainable and affordable,” Sinclair says.
For a pork producer perspective, you can view a video, featuring Jordan and Ben Carstens, who discuss the importance of proper animal handling and the responsibility and satisfaction of raising hogs for Tyson.