The audits – called the Tyson FarmCheck Program – have already begun on a trial basis on some of the 3,000 independent hog farms that supply the company. Auditors are visiting the farms to check on such things as animal access to food and water, as well as proper human-animal interaction and worker training, Tyson says.
Tyson says that the FarmCheck program has been under development since early spring 2012. Although Tyson personnel have been conducting the audits so far, the company plans to ultimately involve independent, third-party auditors. It also intends to expand the program to include chicken and cattle farms by January 2014. The company says that the audits are being developed by “experienced veterinarians and animal welfare experts” and are expected to include measures that build upon current voluntary farm industry programs.
If during an audit a farm fails to meet Tyson’s standards, the company will try to correct minor problems or, if necessary, stop doing business with the farm, the company says.
Tyson also plans to develop a Farm Animal Well-Being Research Program to review existing research as well as fund and promote additional research that the company believes will lead to continued improvements in animal husbandry. Both the FarmCheck and well-being research program will be overseen by an external Animal Well-Being Advisory Committee made up of experts in farm animal behavior, health, production and ethics.
Tyson currently works with more than 12,000 independent livestock and poultry farmers. This includes 5,000 poultry farmers, 3,000 hog farmers and 4,000 cattle ranchers.
The news follows a raft of recent announcements from companies in the food industry regarding animal welfare.
In February, McDonalds announced that it was demanding that all of its US pork suppliers supply it with plans to phase out the use of sow gestation stalls by May this year. Two months later, rival fast-food chain Burger King pledged to transition its US supply chain to 100 percent cage-free eggs by 2017, and only purchase pork from suppliers that can demonstrate documented plans to end their use of gestation crates for breeding pigs.
In July, Kraft Foods said it would eliminate gestation crates from Oscar Mayer’s pork supply chain by 2022. The Humane Society of the United States described the new policy’s phase-in period as “lengthy,” but said that it applauds Kraft Foods’ decision to help improve conditions for its pigs.