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Lessons from JBS on championing livestock welfare

Seven key insights from a processors perspective

Posted: April 5, 2013


Dr. Lily Edwards-Callaway

It's no secret the heavyweights of the global food industry are ramping-up their focus and programs related to animal welfare. One solid example from a processor's perspective is JBS, the world's largest animal protein company.

From creating welfare 'superstars' on the front line of its work force to adopting industry-leading standards including assessment and auditing programs, the company has put livestock welfare at the vanguard of its business approach.

"It's absolutely a top priority," says Dr. Lily Edwards-Callaway, Animal Welfare Specialist with JBS, speaking at the 2013 Livestock Care Conference. "We strongly believe we are stewards of our animals. It's our responsibility and we take it seriously. We work to build up our culture of animal welfare every day."

Building up a culture of high standards

JBS is the world's largest beef producer, largest processor of beef and leather, second largest poultry processor, third largest pork processor and largest lamb processor. Edwards-Callaway oversees the animal welfare programs for cattle, pigs and lambs at JBS USA. Her portfolio includes processing plants across that country as well as the newly acquired beef plant located in Brooks, Alberta.

She provided an overview and numerous examples of how the company supports high standards of livestock welfare through a multi-faceted, systematic approach based on a culture of training, awareness, transparency and continual improvement. Here are examples of seven key insights she delivered on ways of championing livestock welfare designed to deliver clear benefits.

1. Putting welfare first. "As the largest food protein company in the world, we have the ability to make a positive impact on the lives of many animals," says Edwards-Callaway. "That way of thinking is integrated into everything the company does."

2. Taking pride in good practices. It starts with the workers on the front line, she says. Championing animal welfare is a mindset that is constantly reinforced and strong performance is highlighted and celebrated. One small example indicative of many at JBS beef plants is a program where workers nominate an "animal welfare superstar" for every shift who is recognized in the company newsletter.

3. Major focus on training. "Most importantly, if we want the workers to be successful we need to provide them with the skills to do that," says Edwards-Callaway "Training is a big focus and we constantly work on refining and improving our training programs." The JBS training approach for livestock welfare includes hands-on components for each of the different sectors of the company as well as for external people, such as transporters, who play an integral role.

4. Robust monitoring – including assessments and audits. 'Robust' is a word that's used often in describing the JBS system and approach to livestock welfare, she says. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the company's monitoring programs, which include regular assessment and auditing approaches covering all aspects of livestock welfare. Each of the company's processing plants in Canada and the U.S. now has at least one certified animal handling auditor - some plants have several. Each plant runs three different types of auditing systems, including daily audits.

The company's approaches include both internal and third-party assessment, including a growing focus on remote third-party video auditing via the use of in-plant cameras. "This approach helps us improve not only animal handling but also food safety and yield," she says.

5. Culture of continual improvement. JBS uses its monitoring systems to provide assurance of intended practices, support continual improvement and also to reward and train people. "For example, we already use cameras in all our plants for training purposes," she says. "Each plant has a viewing room and employees are instructed in what they're doing well and how to get better."

6. Capturing latest knowledge and resources. Company approaches take advantage of leading models such as auditing standards of the American Meat Institute and certification programs such as PAACO - the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization. "We use the best resources and customize where we need to," she says. "We are always looking for new, improved approaches and how we can learn from what others are doing."

7. 'School-zone' approach: Taking time to do it right. Efficiency and productivity should never trump doing things right from a welfare perspective, says Edwards-Callaway. "Often in our discussions both internally and with our partners and customers, we refer to areas of risk as similar to school zones. Animal welfare is a school zone. We don't speed through school zones. Particularly when we're dealing with high volumes of animals, one mistake can make a big impact. It's even more important to not be complacent and make sure the best practices are followed."

The 2013 Livestock Care Conference was hosted by Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) in partnership with the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. For more information and links to additional reports on speaker presentations, visit the conference website at lcc.afac.ab.ca.


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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