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Groups doubt Tyson's no-abuse data

by Claire Williams | March 19, 2016 at 2:41 a.m. | Updated March 19, 2016 at 2:41 a.m.

Animal-welfare groups were not placated by Tyson Foods' latest report on animal welfare that shared new details about the results of the company's FarmCheck program.

The report, the first part of five in the company's annual sustainability report, said that third-party auditors found no acts of abuse during more than 650 inspections of farms in Tyson's supply chain.

"Their definition of abuse must really leave something to be desired," said Kate Kroll, shareholder advocate at Green Century Capital Management.

Green Century Capital Management submitted a shareholder proposal in 2015 asking Tyson to disclose risks associated with using gestation crates, which restrict animal movement in the pork industry. The proposal was voted down at Tyson's annual shareholder meeting last month.

"An auditing system is only as good as the criteria it uses to perform audits, and Tyson's FarmCheck system allows inherently cruel systems to be used up and down the supply chain," Kroll said. "The program is essentially meaningless when it comes to preventing the worst forms of abuse, like extreme lifelong confinement."

Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society, said he's worried about the standard practices at large agribusiness companies such as Tyson.

"It's not enough to make sure that animals aren't being beaten or stomped," he said. "Abuse is also locking animals in cages so they can't turn around. If an animal shelter or a zoo would keep its animals that way, they would be criminally prosecuted for animal cruelty."

The FarmCheck program, started by Tyson in 2012, uses third-party auditors to check for animal access to food and water, proper human-animal interaction and worker training.

"It's not a perfect program but we believe it helps farmers realize just how important animal well-being is to our company," the company said in a statement Friday. "We also expect to increase the number of audits conducted annually and consider ways to improve it."

The FarmCheck program conducted 646 audits in 2015, up from 621 in 2014. A total of 300 audits were performed in 2013.

Each division -- chicken, hogs and cattle -- are awarded a percentage out of 100 in the animal welfare report based on the FarmCheck program audits. The chicken segment scored 94 percent, hogs came in at 88 percent and cattle at 84 percent. Factors in the grade include site self-assessments, employee training and facility repair.

Audits in Tyson's poultry contract farms are not announced to the farm. In the pork industry, farms may be aware audits are being conducted in the area because of biosecurity standards in the industry. Specific sites are randomly selected by the third-party auditor.

Tyson is working toward a system that would allow unannounced audits of feedlots and hog farms, the company said in a statement.

Tyson announced in the animal-welfare report that Arrowsight, a computer company, is helping to install remote video auditing at 33 chicken plants. Tyson aims to have the system installed and operational by the middle of the year. The company will also be offering additional annual training for farmers who raise broiler chickens.

Tyson plants have been the target of several undercover videos that revealed mistreatment during the company's past fiscal year. In its animal-welfare report, Tyson acknowledges four public reports of incidents where the company has responded, sometimes by firing workers.

Mercy for Animals, an animal-welfare group, released video in August that led to Tyson cutting ties with a farm in Tennessee. Another hidden-camera video led to 33 counts of animal cruelty against six slaughterhouse workers at a Carthage, Miss., poultry plant.

Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals, said Tyson's commitment to animal welfare "lacks teeth and amounts to little more than PR fluff."

"Without outlining important details such as a commitment to replacing live-shackle slaughter methods with less cruel killing systems, reducing stocking density, and providing environmental enrichment, birds in Tyson's supply chain will continue to languish and the disgusting abuse we've seen before will certainly be caught on hidden camera again," he said.

Business on 03/19/2016

Print Headline: Groups doubt Tyson's no-abuse data

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