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Why Should I Know About Animal Welfare Audits?

Susan D. Eicher1 Livestock Behavior Research Unit USDA-ARS



Market driven demands for verification that animals used to produce food receive humane care have resulted in welfare audits becoming a reality for beef and chickens raised for products sold to fast food chains. The dairy industry is targeted for similar audits and the Dairy Quality Assurance Center (2002) was approved by the retail organizations Food Marketing Institute and the National Council of Chain Restaurants in 2002 for that purpose. Assessments are performed by a 3rd party with producer interaction. The audit is an on farm evaluation by a 3rd party checking compliance or noncompliance with written policies with no producer interaction during the audit. Several auditing organizations are available for dairy audits and certification, and one program can provide USDA recognized “Certified Humanely Raised & Handled” labeling. Bunk space; appropriate diet composition; feeding and feed storage; and water cleanliness and availability are covered in the audits. Although the programs cover similar topics, their outcome may be distinctly different based on the design, purpose, certification criteria, and standards on specific topics. Knowing what auditing tools are available and which programs it your production needs will become imperative as audits become necessary for dairy product marketing.

Concern for animal well-being (welfare) is not new to animal and veterinary science. However, documentation programs of animal well-being are relatively new. The term “animal welfare” should not strike fear in our hearts, just because activists groups have used it negatively against animal agriculture (Dairy Herd Management, 2006). Animal agriculture has been addressing animal welfare for decades, seeking to find the best housing and feeds among many other areas. We continue to address these issues with scientific research of practices that best fit our current livestock. Animal well-being has a variety of definitions, depending on the perception of the observer. “Animals can suffer” is an animal oriented definition, “animals are special” is a species orientation, and people’s ideal image is human oriented. Animals have specific needs, as we are all aware. Among those needs are nutrients specific to species and age, social contacts, exploration, thermoregulation, rest, safety, and psychological (security and novel environments).

Well-being is an ongoing process dependent onbalancingstress. Positively,stresssatis iesaneed for excitement. Negatively, it interferes with homeostasis and life functions. The familiar thermal neutral zone diagram can be used to examine many well-being needs of animals (Figure 1). For instance, if this is applied to the number of pen mates, we know that cattle are social animals and

1Contact at: 125 S. Russell St., 219 Poultry Bldg., West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 496-3665, FAX: (765) 496-1993, Email: spruiett@purdue.edu

April 25 and 26, 2006

Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference

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