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Rise of assessment and audit programs

The next frontier in proving good welfare is fast approaching, with several key approaches in use or taking shape in the U.S. and Canada

Posted: April 5, 2013

There is wide variation in the type, depth and sophistication of the assessment and audit models out there today, says Dr. James Reynolds of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University in Ponoma, California.

One of the most commonly cited reference points underlying the various approaches is the "five freedoms" concept that farm animals should have freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.

At a broad level, approaches to assessments or audits typically focus on one or more of three types of factors. These include physical attributes such as physiology or production measures; natural environment factors such as the ability of animals to express 'normal' behaviours; or animal feelings such as how the animal experiences pleasant or unpleasant situations.

The terms assessment and audit are sometimes used interchangeably but typically assessments are more associated with general monitoring and improvement while audits have a stronger 'test' element aimed at determining compliance with particular standards or certification programs.

List of examples growing

Relevant to the U.S. dairy industry alone, there are a number of high profile assessment or audit programs in place, including the American Humane Certified program of the American Humane Association, the National Dairy FARM Program and regional programs such as the New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program.

There are also a steadily growing number of companies and organizations offering animal welfare assessment and audit services as well as certification programs across different livestock species. One key example is Validus, a program that provides an assessment phase followed by an audit phase. Another is the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO), which certifies on-farm welfare auditing programs and certifies the qualifications and training of auditors. Reynolds was a founding board member of PAACO.

In Canada, a major focus of activity at a national level is the Animal Care Assessment Model process that has been coordinated through the National Farm Animal Care Council. The dairy sector is the first to develop a pilot assessment program using this model framework while other sectors are watching closely and considering a similar approach.

Real results take real planning and investment

"For industry standards to be successful, it must be clear that the welfare and interests of the animals have appropriate weight relative to the humane use of the animals," says Reynolds. "Producers must also believe the standards are established and administered fairly. And, perhaps most important, consumers must have confidence that the standards are taken seriously and that livestock producers will follow the recommended practices."

It's essential to not get too far behind consumer expectations, he says. That takes planning and, yes, investment too at the producer level. "The question is: Are you going to be in the livestock business in the next five years or 10 years? If so, you may need to do some things differently because you've got to be positioned for the next version of expectations. You may need to set aside some of your working capital to be ready to make changes. But it's a necessary part of doing business that strengthens and benefits you in the long run."


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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