The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) wants grocery store and restaurant chains to monitor the animal welfare record of their meat suppliers and refuse to deal with any company that repeatedly violates humane standards. In a letter to retailers, AWI president Cathy Liss urged retailers to not do business with companies on AWI's list of repeat offenders of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal law regulating the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses.

"Consumers are increasingly aware that they hold the power to impact animals' lives through their food choices, and they want retailers to only offer products from humanely treated animals," said Liss. "Until now, unless a retailer conducted its own audits, it had little or no information about a producer's animal welfare record to help the retailer make purchasing decisions. AWI is now making that information available to retailers and consumers alike."

It’s worth noting, however, that in the case of pork products, the pork industry has producer certification programs that include management and animal health protocols as well as animal handling and care requirements in its Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport Quality Assurance programs. Also, the National Pork Board works closely and continuously with the food retail sector, including grocers and foodservice representatives to promote information exchange and dialogue between the retail and farm production sectors. NPB also has a packer/processor committee, to complete the communication links in the food-chain.

Other independent animal-care auditors, beyond AWI, also provide animal well-being and care monitoring. Some of these include Validus, Farm Animal Care and Training, the American Meat Institute, USDA Process Verified standards for animal handling, but there are others as well.  

In fact, the Food Marketing Institute and National Council of Chain Restaurants also have a program called Animal Welfare Audit Program.

AWI says it has created a list of all slaughter establishments that have been suspended by USDA for violations of the humane slaughter law, “to assist in assessing the welfare record of a meat supplier.”  Plant suspension is one of the most serious enforcement actions the USDA can take and typically occurs in response to an egregious incident. In some cases, the suspension list provides a link to actual enforcement documents, obtained from the USDA through the Freedom of Information Act. Several of the listings go back several years.

Violations include using an electric prod to shock a pig multiple times on the face, beating and kicking a disabled pig, chaining and hoisting a still-conscious steer, and shooting a bull with a firearm a total of five times before rendering the animal unconscious.

"Retailers should strive to provide high-quality, sustainable and socially responsible products for their customers, and that means only offering meat from animals that have been humanely raised and slaughtered," added Dena Jones, AWI farm animal program manager. "Unfortunately, the treatment of animals on the farm is not currently regulated in the United States—but slaughter is regulated and a meat company's humane slaughter record should inform retailer procurement decisions."