Professor: Third-party farm audits benefit all
OCEAN CITY, Md. — Addressing an audience of poultry growers and flock supervisors at the National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production on Oct. 9, University of Maryland assistant professor Dr. Shawna Weimer said on-farm audits of poultry farms are “a third-party endorsement for transparency” that can benefit everyone by providing documentation for training, maintaining standards and demonstrating management practices.
She explained audits can build consumer confidence “because we are in a really bad spot about not telling our story, which is really good, but we have a lot of bad press right now. So, we need to provide confidence and assurance that we know what we’re doing.”
Weimer said, “There are no laws governing how animals can be raised in the United States,” noting the Humane Slaughter Act which does not apply to poultry.
“It’s the retailers that drive animal welfare,” she said. In 1998, McDonalds issued its first animal welfare guidelines following consultation with Temple Grandin, the Colorado State University animal science professor and noted authority on animal welfare.
State animal welfare statutes began to appear in 2003, Weimer said, mentioning that California’s cage-free initiative resulted from a ballot initiative, which became law without any involvement of the state government.
On-farm audits, she stressed, can vary depending on the organization that developed them, the experience and understanding of the auditor, method of site selection, and how various factors are weighed.
Audits and assessments may be done by government agencies, animal welfare organizations, commercial firms, retailers, restaurant chains and integrators.
Weimer noted the National Chicken Council recommends welfare guidelines and audit criteria for broilers.
In addition, she said, the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization trains and certifies auditors.
PAACO is an independent, science-based group of qualified, trained and certified animal welfare auditors who promote animal welfare.
She said audits and assessments examine all steps in managing broiler production including hatchery, growout, transport, slaughter; records; feed and water; and housing.
Audits can examine both input and output elements, Weimer said. Input issues include biosecurity, feed and water, air and litter quality issues such as temperature and humidity, catching and transportation and processing.
Output issues include stocking density, health and behavior. Health factors may include feather cleanliness, hock burn, foot pad dermatitis, breast blisters, panting/huddling and gait score.
She said challenges during audits include subjectivity, the human factor and knowledge of management practices.
It is difficult, she noted, to standardize quantitative measures among assessors.
They need to understand the relationship between ammonia, temperature and humidity.
They also should be familiar with management practices such as feed withdrawal prior to transportation to the processing plant.
Weimer explained that objective measures of welfare can be categorized into “lag” and “lead” indicators. Lag indicators, including stocking density, contact dermatitis, leg health, final mortality and condemnations, are retrospective so nothing can be done about them.
Lead indicators, on the other hand, can be controlled. They include feed and water consumption, air and litter quality and daily weight gain. “Production management is the key to animal welfare,” she added.
“Everyone talks about stocking density and everyone is reducing their density, but that is not the factor that affects animal welfare. It’s temperature and humidity,” she stressed.
She assured her audience “there is sound science behind audit criteria and standards are continuously improved and updated.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925