As part of its focus on more sustainable food production, Tyson Foods this week rolled out a broad new animal welfare initiative that combines the latest technology with high-tech monitoring and training to improve the care of chickens.
The company has implemented the U.S. meat industry’s most extensive third-party remote video auditing (RVA) system, is fielding what is believed to be the world’s largest team of animal well-being specialists and is introducing a pilot project for controlled-atmosphere stunning (CAS) at two of its poultry facilities this year.
“Ensuring the well-being of the animals in our care is a core part of our broader sustainability journey, and these initiatives are the latest examples of our leadership in this important area,” Tyson chief sustainability officer Justin Whitmore said. “We’re also piloting other potential innovations as we become the world’s most sustainable producer of protein.”
To help monitor live bird handling, the company has rolled out the industry’s largest third-party RVA program in the U.S., covering 33 poultry plants. Tyson is using Arrowsight, a leading provider of RVA technology and data analytics services with extensive animal welfare monitoring experience. Video from cameras in Tyson's chicken plants is analyzed by trained off-site auditors, and data feedback is provided daily, weekly and monthly to plant management to deliver excellence in animal welfare practices.
Tyson is also launching an innovative RVA pilot project to assess on-farm catching of birds for transport to processing facilities. Video will be audited and analyzed by Arrowsight for adherence to humane treatment of animals, allowing for immediate follow-up if any concerns are identified.
In addition to video monitoring, Tyson said it is the first in the industry to employ animal well-being specialists across all its beef, pork and poultry operations. The company has trained and deployed nearly 60 dedicated full-time animal well-being specialists, including at least one at every processing facility that handles live animals. They will work collaboratively with the company's Office of Animal Well-Being and the plants to ensure best-in-class training and practices. Half of the specialists are also involved in supporting animal well-being on the poultry farms that supply to Tyson.
The specialists have experience in either processing plant or live chicken operations and will have continual training. They have participated in animal welfare webinars and a week-long summit and are also taking a certification course through the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization.
“Animal welfare is part science, part compassion, and it requires management commitment to learning, training and constant monitoring,” said Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a member of Tyson’s Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel.
Tyson also announced that it is launching two pilot projects within the next year to test the CAS process. Support for the use of gas as a more humane way to render birds unconscious before processing has increased over the past several years among scientists, veterinarians and animal welfare advocates, since it eliminates the handling of conscious birds. The company will evaluate the results of the pilot program to determine if CAS is a reasonable alternative to the existing method before it makes decisions about deploying it at other facilities.
An additional pilot project will focus on chicken house lighting and enrichments for the birds. The company said it continues to work with its poultry breeding suppliers on the important relationship between breeding and bird health and has conducted work on enhanced poultry nutrition and ventilation.
Tyson will host a Facebook Live video session from a chicken farm at 10 a.m. (Central) on June 22 on its corporate Facebook page. It will include a Tyson animal well-being specialist, a Tyson veterinarian and a poultry farmer and will give viewers an opportunity to see firsthand how chickens are raised.
Tyson's existing animal well-being initiatives, which encompass its beef, pork and poultry operations, include the Tyson FarmCheck program. This program involves third-party animal well-being audits of farms that supply the company, as well as an external Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel that includes animal welfare experts, livestock producers and a physician.
The company also operates CARE, a risk-based assessment program the company created to help plants identify and audit animal handling points. CARE involves individual facility animal well-being committees, required animal well-being training and internal animal well-being audits by members of the plant management staff.