Certified Animal Welfare Audits for farms: The leap

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Although Certified Farm Animal Welfare Audits are not new, there seems to be a renewed interest by companies large and small to have the farms that supply them audited to a certified standard. 

As a producer you may be asking yourself what is the benefit of this practice and why do we need more red tape for animal agriculture industries? I believe it is because society has an ethical concern about the quality of life experienced by farm animals – active consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it is grown and what practices are employed. When the processor requires your farms to be audited, they are able to market the compliance of animal welfare standards on their packaging, which hopefully will help to increase their sales and assure their customers that the farms that supply them employ good animal welfare practices. Reputable third party audits allow for a check and balance system helping both the producer and the consumer understand what is required and ensuring that these requirements are correctly met. 

20 years ago, meat and poultry processing facilities rarely had certified audits. Now they have various audits, including Global Food Safety Standards, Animal Welfare and Social Accountability. Completing the audit process may not be an easy process, but farms and processing facilities are capable of getting it done. For most facilities or farms that have been through the process, the issue isn’t what or how practices are employed, but the proof or documentation of said procedures. The first step in the process is writing a plant or a farm program, which can be tedious task in itself, followed with documentation that captures what you can be overwhelming for some facilities. 

Once the decision to have a Certified Animal Welfare audit conducted on your farm is made, there are many places you can look for help and advice as you prepare. When you commit to the audit, the actual audit and typically a guidebook will be sent to you well in advance of your audit date. These are meant to clarify things like what will be needed as far as documentation, what the standard is for stocking density and when it is to be calculated. When you are reviewing the audit standards, if there are things that are still not clear, the Certifying Entity (company performing the audit) will assist producers when they call or email with questions. It is also common for the auditor who will be conducting the audit on your farm to provide clarification on requirements prior to the audit. Another resource that is available to producers is Michigan State University Extension, where additional information, help and advice can be found under the ‘Ask an Expert’ area. 

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the audit. Many things come up on a daily basis, and it is important to give yourself plenty of time to complete the needed steps so that your audit is successful. Michigan State University Extension Educator Tina Conklin suggests that producers and processing facilities give themselves three to six months to prepare – this way daily tasks are still completed on schedule and proper preparation is done for the audit. 

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