We hear a lot about animal welfare these days, with voter propositions, clandestine videos and PETA publicity stunts. Meatpacking companies, on the front line of the welfare issue, increasingly recognize the need for proactive policies and uniform standards designed to prevent abuse and assure public trust.
They also recognize that proper treatment of the animals they purchase extends beyond the plant gates. Illustrating this is an April announcement from Cargill’s pork division that the company has instituted the pork industry’s Transportation Quality Assurance policy.
TQA is a system of training and performance measures for the handling and transportation of pigs, according to a Cargill release. Under the TQA program, drivers and handlers of livestock are trained on the requirements of their role in ensuring swine well-being and pork quality. Cargill now requires that any transporter of hogs to its facilities must be TQA certified, or they may not pass through the company gates.
“It is straightforward — if a driver isn’t certified, he’s stopped at our gates,” says Cargill Pork President Dirk Jones. “Federal regulations cover animal handling in our processing plants, but there is no strict oversight of transportation prior to arriving at our plants. We decided to step up and take a leadership role to help ensure that all parts of the supply chain do what is needed.”
The beef industry, through checkoff funding and leadership from NCBA, has developed a similar program called Transport Beef Quality Assurance, which includes Master Cattle Transporter training materials. Ryan Ruppert, NCBA’s director of beef quality assurance, says the organization is working toward full implementation of the program, including train-the-trainer materials and trucker certification by the end of this year.
Cargill is watching the process closely. “We try to support the programs being developed through the producer organizations,” says Mike Siemens, PhD, the company’s global leader for animal welfare and husbandry, adding that Cargill has encouraged NCBA to move ahead with the TBQA program. Once the program evolves to include a certification process for truckers, Siemens says, Cargill will evaluate its requirements and discuss it with customers. If the program fits the company’s needs and standards, which he believes it will, Cargill will consider adopting TBQA for cattle to mirror its current implementation of TQA for hogs.
“Our customers have expectations that we are doing all we can to assure humane treatment of animals and use best management practices,” Siemens says. He adds that most truckers, like most workers in the packing plants, have experience and innate knowledge about how to handle livestock. But a formalized certification system ensures they know the correct way of doing things, reassures customers and the public, and provides a system of accountability.
At Cargill Pork, TQA doesn’t just apply to drivers. The company requires TQA certification for management personnel in the facilities, and the supervisors who work with animals in the pens are certified TQA instructors. The company also has established a Trucker Recognition Program that provides incentives to truckers for individual performance in terms of animal handling and delivery of healthy livestock to the plants. The program, the company says, has helped reduce the number of non-ambulatory hogs delivered to the company’s plants.