Quality Assurance programs have been in place for food animal farmers for more than a decade. The breadth of these programs varies depending on the animal species, but the core facets are based on farmer education and best management practices to ensure good animal care and safe meat.
For beef farmers, the Beef Quality Assurance program is a voluntary educational effort that focuses on daily farming practices which impact both animal care and food safety. Cattle ranchers and farmers are encouraged to both participate in the program and interact regularly with their veterinarian to facilitate this goal.
The Farm Check program is intended to be a natural extension of the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment. With its key elements comprised of core BQA components, Farm Check extends the current BQA program for feed yards to include an independent 3rd party auditing component. Auditing serves two purposes:
- It creates accountability and verification of animal care practices on the farm.
- It offers additional assurance for customers that live off-farm that the meat that they purchase at the grocery store comes from animals that were raised responsibly.
The Farm Check Beef Animal Handling Feed Yard Training Manual is still in draft form, and will be trialed in a few “pilot” feed yards this summer before a final draft is formed this fall. Implementation of the beef portion of the Farm Check Program will begin in 2014. The swine version is currently in the process of being implemented, and the poultry program is slated to follow the same time line as the beef. Tyson is the nation’s leading producer of meat and poultry, and is the first packing plant to take this step toward validating on-farm animal care.
The second component of the Farm Check program is an animal welfare research program. Tyson has designated dollars to be used to fund and promote additional research that will lead to continued improvement in the methods used to raise farm animals. CEO Donnie Smith states, “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.”
The Farm Animal Wellbeing Advisory Panel that I sit on will aid Tyson both in the Farm Check on-farm education and audit program and also provide input on necessary research areas for further study. The panel members will work with Tyson’s internal team to create and implement the program.
The Farm Check program is inaugural in nature and a work in progress. I returned home after the first two day meeting with my head swimming with information and ideas. I am looking forward to continuing to share and learn as I fulfill my duties on the Advisory Panel!