With consumer interest in animal welfare on the rise, meat packers are adopting standards and auditing processes that go beyond those from government or industry, says Lily Edwards-Callaway, PhD, who oversees welfare programs for JBS. Prior to joining the company, Edwards-Callaway earned her PhD studying under Temple Grandin at Colorado State University and served on the faculty at Kansas State University.
The company is working to build, support and maintain a culture of animal welfare among all its employees. Toward that goal, the company has developed and implemented a systematic approach toward humane handling and slaughter, incorporating nearly continuous audits of all live-animal processes within its plants.
The audit system has several components. In “biased” audits, technical services specialists routinely observe and document animal-handling activities. For “unbiased” audits, JBS makes extensive use of remote video cameras monitoring all activities from the time cattle trucks arrive through slaughter.
Edwards-Callaway and her team can watch activities at any of those points on monitors in a viewing room. Video screens positioned in common areas in the company’s corporate offices allow company executives and staff to see how plant crews handle animals at all times. In addition, a third-party audit company called Arrowsight can monitor the same cameras remotely and conducts random audits.
Edwards-Callaway says the company uses the videos primarily for training purposes.
If an employee is seen violating protocols, the staff can view the videos with the employee, explaining what he or she did wrong and how to correct it. They also use the system for audits, and some type of welfare audit takes place in every plant virtually every day. Since the company began using video cameras two years ago, Edwards-Callaway says there has been a steady reduction in the use of electric prods along with improvements in effective stunning and other measures of animal welfare.
(Video monitors in the corporate offi ces allow JBS employees
to watch livestock-processing activities in real time.)
Edwards-Callaway sees considerable variation in the behavior of cattle arriving at the plants, ranging from docile to flighty. Sometimes individual cattle or entire shipments of cattle can be difficult to move and potentially cause difficulties for plant personnel. She says it is hard to determine why cattle react differently in the plant environment, with their previous experiences, genetics, weather or problems during loading potentially playing a role.
When an unusually aggressive animal is included in a shipment, crews typically are unaware until it erupts during unloading or processing. Edwards-Callaway suggests feedyard veterinarians or staff make note of such animals when loading cattle out and notify the plant, possibly through the truck driver. A simple heads-up could prevent disruptions and possible
injuries to workers or cattle at the plant. Edwards-Callaway wants to develop better communication channels with suppliers and their veterinarians to coordinate animal-handling practices. Currently she works closely with Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, a division of JBS, on animal-welfare issues. The company’s consulting veterinarians, she says, have been integrally involved in refining and updating animal-handling and welfare practices at Five Rivers.