Animal Welfare Audits Make Positive Change in Meat Industry

Abattoirs can receive funds for important training and equipment upgrades

The meat processing industry is under more scrutiny today than ever before. Periodic incidents involving the inhumane treatment of livestock have led consumers to demand animal welfare audits to ensure slaughter plants are following the best practices for animal handling.

In response, a number of industry groups created the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO). PAACO's goal is to promote the humane treatment of animals by educating industry and certifying auditors to assess how well companies and individual slaughter plants comply with industry standards. Today, large buyers, such as McDonald's and Walmart, are demanding that third-party PAACO-trained auditors look at their suppliers. At the same time, the plants that supply those companies, understand the value of having training for all employees who work in their operations' welfare handling areas.

Industry Trend

"It's important that our industry move with the trends," says Lee Perrault, owner of Prairie Abattoir, in Portage La Prairie. "Buyers are requiring this kind of certification. Without it, you won't be able to sell to them. It's that simple."

Perrault recently attended a PAACO education, training and certification course in Alberta that included onsite demonstrations of major hog and beef plants. Sessions were led by North American experts in animal welfare and attracted industry people from across Canada. Prairie Abattoir in Portage la Prairie and BJ Packers of Beausejour both sent representatives to the course. Growing Forward 2 offset some of the course costs.

"There are two major reasons why the public wants to have third party inspection done within slaughter plants," says Shelagh Copeland, food safety veterinarian with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD). "One is to ensure animals are treated humanely and the other is for food safety. Each of these is equally important to the public, I believe."

MAFRD recently took over direct inspection of provincial abattoirs from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The PAACO course gave Copeland and her colleagues additional insight into the best practices for animal welfare and auditing in plants today.

Manitoba as Leader

"Manitoba has always led the country on animal welfare issues," Copeland says. "Our goal is to optimize animal welfare in provincial abattoirs and establish an auditable system which operators can share with their clients to verify animals are handled humanely. People want to buy local. If one can also "brand" a product using a recognized standard, this can have additional value to people."

To optimize animal welfare and develop an auditable system, processors need to know what training and funds are available for plant improvements.

"We learned a great deal about how to improve facilities to reduce stress on animals," says Dana Gardiner, animal welfare specialist with MAFRD, who also attended the course. "My role now is to bring what I've learned back to Manitoba processors and help them apply for training and plant improvement funding."

Funding Available

Abattoirs can apply to the Growing Assurance Program - Food Safety Processing and Distribution program. The Livestock Welfare Processor Program has been allotted $800,000 over the next four years to fund audits. The goal is to help processors pay for training, infrastructure improvements and certain kinds of new equipment. Successful applicants can receive up to $50,000 at a 65 per cent cost recovery. Growing Assurance is a program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

While most of the larger plants already have certified animal welfare auditors on staff, it's a new concept for most smaller plants, but one that is being received with interest.

"The course was well run and extremely informative" Perrault says. "My business is better off for it. These days, it's very important to understand the way the public views your business and consumers want to see plants meeting certain standards. At the same time, we recognize that following humane practices gives us a better quality product in the end."

The PAACO programs are all based on the pioneering work that Dr. Temple Grandin has done on animal welfare. Participants learn directly from industry leaders about the best methods of animal handling, including the preferred configuration of the chute. Once they complete the course and pass the examination, participants are required to complete three shadow audits with a certified auditor. Once they are certified by PAACO, auditors must complete annual education credits to maintain their certification.

Livestock Welfare Processor Program

How to apply for funding:

  1. Complete your application in full and attach all required documents. Applications and program details can be found on the Growing Assurance - Food Safety Processing and Distribution webpage.
  2. Submit your application and documents to your MAFRD GO Office; or send directly to:
    Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD)
    PO Box 1240, 810 Phillips Street
    Portage la Prairie MB R1N 3J9
    Fax: 204-239-3180
  3. When your application is received, the animal welfare - humane slaughter specialist will contact you to discuss further program details and requirements.

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