Shot of a happy young farmer feeding her flock of chickens while sitting in a field

Coffee Talk: A Framework For Animal Welfare Certification Programs

Marc Simony
November 8, 2017

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With growing consumer demand for food products sourced from suppliers with improved animal welfare practices, some companies have stepped up to the plate to fill this niche.

To explore the nuts and bolts around animal welfare certification programs, TraceGains sat down with Janice Neitzel, CEO, Sustainable Solutions Group. This company consults with food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants that sources meat, dairy, and egg products from suppliers that keep animal welfare in mind. 

TraceGains: With so many different animal welfare certifications available, how can one be reassured the claims made by certifiers are trustworthy?

Neitzel: There are few farm animal welfare regulations. Even USDA Organic does not thoroughly regulate animal welfare; instead, it’s much more about the quality of feed for livestock and poultry. This gap in regulations has resulted in a myriad of certifications created by animal protein industries, animal welfare NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations], food companies, etc. Some examples include on-farm accreditations and slaughter animal welfare certifications. Multiple programs exist for nearly every species of livestock and poultry (beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc.). The first thing to look at is the strength of the program behind the certification.

TraceGains: What are the components of a healthy animal welfare program?

Neitzel: Some certifications are based on more robust animal welfare criteria, like not allowing crates and cages. Others codify [or standardize] the food industry’s confinement practices of egg-laying hens and breeding pigs. Crates and cages can provide economic benefits, and some will argue the safety benefits. Higher animal welfare programs create safe environments for livestock and poultry without continuous use of crates and cages.

TraceGains:  Is every farm required to be audited for the certification to be awarded? 

Neitzel: Some programs only require random audits of farms, which isn’t as strong a program. Frequency of required audits is essential, and typically an annual third-party inspection is required. Some programs audit every farm, but only once every three years. Less frequent audits should only be allowed when a farm has passed a robust third-party audit for multiple years. The skill of the auditor is also an essential component of a robust certification program.

TraceGains: If a certification has a strong program, what else is needed to trust the certification?

Neitzel: With a strong program in place, the most important thing is the strength of the audit, how the audit form is designed and scored. Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and Livestock Handling Facilities Designer, says that a well-structured audit will have similar results on the same day no matter who the auditor. The audit must have Critical Control Points that result in automatic failure, if not passed. Examples of critical control points include willful animal abuse, raising animals in complete darkness, etc. It must be clear how the inspector will score the audit and the score required to pass the audit. 

A healthy animal welfare program coupled with a robust audit is most important to trust a certification program. You might be wondering how retailers, food manufacturers, and restaurant companies know this is the case?

You need to collect and review annual third-party audits from your animal protein suppliers and undergo unannounced audits. We work with our clients to take these steps in pre-crisis planning.

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Janice Neitzel

Janice Neitzel received her MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. She collaborates with certifying bodies including Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership (GAP), Animal Welfare Approved, and American Humane Certified.