IN FOCUS: Butterball CEO talks animal welfare

Butterball Rod Brennamen discusses his company's plans for assuring turkey welfare, including pilot-testing video surveillance in its barns.

Butterball Turkey
THE nation’s largest turkey producer recently unveiled a series of updates and enhancements to its animal welfare plan, including a pilot-test involving on-farm video surveillance. Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman said his company was “striving to set industry standards” for the nation’s turkey producers, and had taken steps to renew and “aggressively strengthen” its commitment to ensuring the safety and care of its animals.

Among those efforts, the company is examining the use of video surveillance in its turkey production operations to ensure the best care and handling of its animals at all times. Video footage will be reviewed by both internal and independent, third-party experts.

“There is a lot of video-based auditing done in the processing plant side of the business,” said Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman. “There are third-party companies out there that set up the technology in the plants and audit them in an ongoing basis, but that’s not been done in the live production side of the business. We’re working with one of those companies and doing some pilot testing now throughout our system to try to take that same type of technology out to the live operations.”

Brenneman said the pilot project, along with new care and handling procedures and methods also being tested at the company’s facilities, are part of a renewed focus on continuous improvement to ensure that its animal welfare is the “best in the industry.”

Its video surveillance project is one key to upholding the company’s promise of “zero tolerance” of animal mistreatment, as is the firm’s commitment to enhanced and ongoing employee training and engagement. Along with having the input of a new advisory council of animal scientists, however, Butterball’s biggest commitment might well be to obtaining and maintaining American Humane Association certification.

“In order to continuing improving as a company, you have to be looking at yourself, and you also have to have outside people looking into what you’re doing,” Brenneman explained. “We want to be held to other people’s standards as well as our own, and we’ve partnered with AHA as an independent, third-party group with their own criteria. They’re auditing our facilities, and we’ve been able to be certified for our whole bird products this year, and our whole hope and goal is that by the middle of next year, the entire Butterball system will be certified.

Butterball partnered with AHA to conduct a comprehensive, two-year audit of its system-wide operations, and the company’s fresh, whole turkeys are now approved to carry the certification label as an American Humane Certified product. AHA recently announced that its efforts had protected nearly 1 billion farm animals through its certification program.

Listen to Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman discuss his company's animal welfare efforts via the Feedstuffs In Focus podcast.

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