From the Editor: Bridging the animal wellness gap

NSF unveils new standards aimed at getting producers and food companies on the same page.
Brett Ruffell
May 14, 2019
I’ve written before about a growing frustration within the industry. Increasingly, global food companies are coming out with their own welfare programs for poultry and egg sectors. Many of them include their own unique commitments suppliers must adhere to. Adding to this frustration, some of these pledges appear to be driven not by evidence but by pressure activists put on brands.

Understandably, it’s challenging for companies with global supply chains to meet animal welfare commitments. However, clearly a one-size-fits-all approach is unfair to producers. Sensing an opportunity to bridge the gap between multinational food companies and livestock industries in the markets they serve, health and safety organization NSF International developed new Global Animal Wellness Standards (GAWS).

Unveiled in February at the International Production and Processor Expo in Atlanta, Ga., the standards address the full lifecycle of livestock production – from hatchery to slaughterhouse and everything in between. In terms of poultry, the program includes standards for egg layers (table and hatching eggs) and meat birds. It also includes standards for beef and dairy cattle, small ruminants and hogs.

NSF is aiming to help companies like restaurant chains, foodservice operators and processors meet their global animal welfare commitments while getting buy-in from producers and other suppliers. “There was really no third-party standard out there that covered the whole supply chain and that could deliver on a global level,” says Robert Prevendar, global managing director of supply chain food safety at NSF. “As a global company, we work with a lot of companies that have global supply chains.”

The organization thinks livestock industries will welcome the program, partly because they respect regional differences. One way in which NSF accommodates these variances is that its standards are outcome-based rather than prescriptive. For example, they don’t include set numbers for aspects such as ammonia levels or stocking density that farmers around the world must adhere to. Nor do they call for certain types of poultry breeds like some other organizations do.

Instead, producers identify their own thresholds and then explain their choices to an NSF auditor. “It’s going to be a different feel and approach for most producers who are used to being audited on the animal welfare side to very prescriptive standards,” says Elaine Vanier, NSF’s animal welfare and animal feed program lead.

Another aspect that sets the standards apart: They take a holistic approach. The idea is that animal wellness depends on four interconnected components – good animal health, welfare, handling and care. “If you have an issue in any one of these areas it can reduce overall wellness of the animal,” Vanier says.

Producers will then conduct a ‘hazard analysis’ to assess any threats to animal wellness on their barns. “They need to understand what their risks are and incorporate ways to mitigate them,” Vanier explains.

NSF says numerous global food companies have already expressed interest in the program, and Canada’s feather boards are collectively meeting to provide feedback on the standards in the near future.

Vanier is confident they’ll welcome the standards as well. One reason for her optimism is NSF already has working relationships with Canada’s poultry and egg groups. For instance, it performs annual third-party audits of Chicken Farmers of Canada’s Raised by a Canadian Farmer Animal Care Program.

What’s more, since the standards look at the management system and program requirements, much of what a CFC farmer has in place would meet some of NSF’s standards. The organization is conducting a benchmarking exercise to see exactly where the two programs overlap to make audits as efficient as possible.

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