Preparing for Animal Welfare Audits and Assessments

VME-33
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
03/26/2018
Kathryn Proudfoot, MSc, PhD; Extension Specialist

Consumers have become more interested in where their food comes from and are looking for transparency in animal production. In response to this change, scientists, veterinarians, non-governmental organizations (NGO), producers, retailers, and animal industry professionals have worked together to create animal welfare standards for dairy, beef, poultry, and swine. In some cases, these standards have become animal welfare “assessment” or “audit” programs that assess whether individual farms are meeting the standards as set by the various programs.

This fact sheet will describe: 1) a definition of animal welfare used across species and standards, 2) the process of animal welfare assessment and audit programs, 3) what measurements are taken from the farm during an assessment, and 4) what a producer can do to prepare for an animal welfare assessment or audit.

What is Animal Welfare?

Animal welfare is a concept that incorporates both science and cultural values about animals. In the United States, society and scientists agree on three main concerns about the quality of life of animals: the physical health and productivity of the animal, the animal’s ability to avoid negative emotional states such as fear, distress, and pain, and the animal’s ability to live a reasonably natural life (Fraser et al., 1997). These three concepts can be thought of as three overlapping circles (Figure 1), where the best solution to an animal welfare problem should aim to balance all three concerns and fall in the middle of the circles.

How Does an Animal Welfare Assessment or Audit Work?

The goal of animal welfare assessment or audit programs are to evaluate whether a farm is meeting the standards of the specific program. Every program has their own set of standards, usually created by collaboration among producers, veterinarians, scientists, animal advocacy groups, and industry professionals.

A farm can choose to be part of the program (for voluntary programs), or will be required to be part of a program (for involuntary programs). Before the farm is enrolled in a program, there will be a farm visit by an auditor or evaluator. Depending on the program, this person may be third party to the farm and have no financial tie to the farm, or may be second party to the farm and have some relationship to the farm (e.g., the feed representative, the veterinarian on record, etc.).

What is Measured on the Farm?

During a farm visit, there are three categories of animal welfare measurements that the auditor or evaluator will measure: animal-based measurements, resource-based measurements, and protocol-based measurements.

Animal-based measurements: These include measurements that can be measured by directly looking at the animal. For example: body condition score, lameness, presence of injuries (e.g., hock lesions in dairy cows or tail injuries in swine), hygiene, and/or presence of abnormal behaviors.

Resource-based measurements: These include observations from the animals’ environment that may contribute to an animal-based measurement. For example: access to feed and water, ventilation, stocking density, hygiene of the environment/lying area, protection from heat and cold, and special needs facilities (e.g., birthing/maternity areas, hospital pens, etc.).

Protocol-based measurements: These include measurements that can be taken from written protocols. For example: evidence of a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR), herd/flock health protocols signed off by the veterinarian, protocols for euthanasia (e.g., methods and steps to ensure animals are euthanized in a correct and timely manner), protocols for pain control during painful procedures (e.g., disbudding, castration, etc.), and documented evidence of animal handler training and ethics agreements.

What Steps Can I Take to Prepare for an Audit?

If you are expecting an animal welfare assessment or audit, there are a number of things you can do to help prepare:

  1. Become familiar with the program. Most programs have their standards publically available online (see below for links to common animal welfare assessment and audit programs). Many programs also provide a list of documentation you will need during the evaluation. Preparing this documentation ahead of time can help save you time in the long-run.
  2. Have a conversation with your veterinarian. Let your veterinarian know when the evaluation is happening and that they may need to sign a VCPR. If you do not have a relationship with a veterinarian, now is the time to develop one, as this is usually a mandatory criterion.
  3. Review and update your health protocols with your veterinarian. In some cases, programs will require that protocols are updated annually and are signed off by the veterinarian. This is a good excuse to review what your current practices are for: identifying disease, treating disease (antibiotics, analgesics, etc.), performing euthanasia, using pain control, dealing with non-ambulatory animals, and/or caring for young stock.
  4. Do a self-assessment. You are likely familiar with many of the measurements taken on the farm (e.g., lameness, body condition scoring, hygiene, etc.), and may already be screening for these problems as part of your normal farm protocol. An evaluator may not score all of the animals on your farm, but will take a random sample. To do your own assessment, you should take measurements from at least 100 animals (or all of your animals if your farm is smaller than 100), and include at least 1 animal from each pen (e.g., do not skip over the hospital pen). Taking a walk through your pens and systematically scoring your animals (e.g., every third or fourth animal) will give you a sense of what the evaluator will see. Although you may not be able to fix some problems easily (e.g., lameness) before the evaluator arrives, this is a good opportunity to move a compromised animal into a hospital pen (e.g., an animal with a very low body condition or with severe lameness). Many programs also have self-assessment tools that you can use to help prepare for a farm visit. See the links to common assessment programs below for more details.

For dairy producers, the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO) has created an online self assessment for dairy cows that you can complete online for free.

Links to Common Animal Welfare Assessment and Audit Programs

Dairy Cattle/Dairy Beef      

The National Dairy F.A.R.M. (Farmer’s Assuring Responsible Management) Program

Validus

Certified Humane

Animal Welfare Approved

American Humane Certified

Beef Cattle  

Beef Quality Assurance

Validus

Certified Humane

Animal Welfare Approved

Global Animal Partnership

American Humane Certified

Swine            

Common Swine Industry Audit

Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus

Validus

Certified Humane

 Animal Welfare Approved

Global Animal Partnership

American Humane Certified

Poultry   

Certified Humane

Animal Welfare Approved

Global Animal Partnership

American Humane Certified

Small Ruminants   

Certified Humane

Animal Welfare Approved

Global Animal Partnership

Reference

Fraser D., Weary D.M., Pajor E.A., and B.N. Milligan. 1997. A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns. Animal Welfare, 6:187–205.

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