In a country overrun with outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, it’s refreshing to learn some potential good news about food safety and animal welfare in the U.S. Tyson Foods, Inc ., the nation’s largest producer of poultry and meat, announced the launch of a new program designed to audit the treatment of animals at its suppliers’ farms. The company works with more than 12,000 independent livestock and poultry farms, including 3,000 hog farmers and 4,000 family cattle farmers.
Tyson employs more than a dozen veterinarians and has had an office of animal wellbeing since 2000. It is the first U.S. poultry company to establish an office of animal wellbeing, overseen by Dr. Kellye Pfalzgraf, a veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience in the livestock industry.
The new audit program, entitled the Tyson FarmCheck™ Program, has started on a trial basis at some of the independent hog farms that supply the company. Tyson auditors are visiting the farms to examine practices such as animal access to food and water, proper human-animal interaction, and farm employee training.
Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, said in a statement , “Our company is made of up ethical, responsible and compassionate people, and we believe the family farmers who supply us share our values. We know 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.”
Tyson says it also plans to develop a Farm Animal Well-Being Research program to study animal raising methods from breeding to harvesting, and the company will create an external Animal Well-Being Advisory Committee including experts in farm animal behavior, health, production and ethics. The new committee is scheduled to begin work in March 2013.
Tyson’s announcement comes after The Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation of a pig factory where Tyson buys animals and reported last spring that Wyoming Premium Farms abused sows and piglets. The group filmed video in April 2012 showing workers at the farm kicking piglets and punching mother pigs with their fists when the sows resisted leaving their young. The video also documents pigs used for breeding being confined to gestation crates–two-foot-wide metal cages so small that the animals cannot turn around.
Tyson said it would temporarily suspend purchases of pigs from the farm last May.