By Monica Dick
Undercover video. Two words that will send shivers up the spine of anyone who works in agriculture and food. There have been well over 200 undercover videos in the U.S. and 16 in Canada since 2012 targeting agriculture from farms through to processing. While it’s human nature to hope one never focuses on you, your company, suppliers or customers – it’s always better to be prepared.
Following and continually improving solid animal care practices in all aspects of farming, transport, handling and processing is, and always will be, the fundamental base of doing the right thing. However, with animals, people, equipment and mother nature all working for and against each other some days, even the best situation and people can be framed in a negative light by someone hired for that purpose or anyone with a cellphone camera.
The best time to plan for a crisis is when you aren’t in one. With that in mind, here is some information on the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI)’s Animal Care Review Panel and how it works.
What is the Farm Animal Care Review Panel?
The panel process was developed several years ago by the U.S. Center for Food Integrity as a valuable tool to assist leaders within the food system to make more informed decisions with views from third-party experts in these often-difficult situations, which can lead to lost markets and customers. The CCFI Farm Animal Care Review Panel engages recognized third-party animal care specialists, such as veterinarians, animal behaviour and (ACRP) experts to examine videos and provide their expert perspectives.
How does it work?
The experts review the videos independently and their comments are not edited or approved by others, to be truly representative of that expert’s opinion. CCFI puts together a report based on the experts’ opinions in a very timely manner, to be most useful in crisis communications timelines. This report provides a credible assessment of what the experts saw in the video, to be of service for food retailers, foodservice, agri-food industry partners and the media who may be covering or considering covering the story.
Who can request one?
CCFI is a service provider in business to help the food system earn public trust. The Animal Care Review Panel is a service that can be requested by any provincial or national not-for-profit organization member of CCFI, with the goal to be helpful to the whole sector. When an undercover video response is handled poorly, it reflects badly and erodes trust in the entire agri-food sector, not just the company or sector being profiled.
An individual for-profit company may not request an ACRP. This is to avoid potential conflicts of interest and to maintain the credibility of the process, as CCFI does not advocate for any positions or companies. So, if a company is in a video situation, they can ask their respective provincial or national association to launch and pay for an expert panel as a tool to help the entire sector with credible content, context and a reference that can be shared widely.
Once a panel is underway, there is no contact with any industry partners to maintain the highest level of credibility. The release of the report and the findings of the panel are released to CCFI members, the media and other key food industry associations at the same time to strengthen the report’s integrity and influence. In an age of continually increasing scrutiny, the value of third-party processes like this will continue to grow.
Hidden camera investigations have heightened public attention on animal care issues, with CCFI research showing almost half of Canadians are unsure if these videos are reflective of normal farm practices. The ACRP provides a mechanism that agri-food sector stakeholders can rely on to objectively evaluate video investigations, regardless of species or subject matter.
The Farm Animal Care Review Panel process tests the veracity of the allegations and demonstrates the food system commitment to quality care and continuous improvement. This might include determining appropriate corrective actions when necessary. The panel is another tool in Canada’s farmer and processor associations’ comprehensive and evolving strategies to help maintain customer and consumer confidence and markets.
You can see the previous Farm Animal Care Review Panel reports at foodintegrity.ca.
Interested in learning more about public trust and consumer confidence in Canadian food and the poultry sector? Register and help shape the conversations about the future of public trust at the Canadian CFI Public Trust Summit in Gatineau, Que., November 13-14.
Crystal Mackay is president of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity. For Canadian consumer insights on public trust in food and farming, visit www.foodintegrity.ca.