What is a third-party animal welfare audit? To understand this, we need to discuss what an audit is, what animal welfare means, and why animal welfare audits are important.
What is an audit? An audit is a verification of adherence to a set standard. These standards need to be clear for the audit to be successful.
An audit is also a snapshot in time. It is not a hunt to find errors, a management review or training, or proof that the site is meeting all criteria all day, every day. It is also not the auditor’s personal opinion about the facility.
There are three types of audits — first party, second party and third party.
First party audits are internal, or self audits, done by an employee or the producer on their own site. Second party audits are usually done by the direct customer of the producer. Third party audits are conducted by impartial, independent auditors who have no stake in the operation.
Next, we need to define animal welfare.
While welfare might mean something different to each of us, it is usually based on the “five freedoms” from the Farm Animal Welfare Council — freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress. These freedoms relate to how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives, and requires that the animal’s physical and mental needs be provided for.
Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from and how the animals are raised. Many retailers want a certificate or label indicating adherence to suitable animal welfare practices on products. Independent third party verification provides another set of eyes on the operation so customers aren’t just taking the farmers’ word for it. It is verified by someone who has no personal stake or interest in the operation. Furthermore, audits provide some protection against claims by animal rights groups. While we can never satisfy the extremists, a successful audit will satisfy most consumers.
How Does the Audit Process Work?
First, the producer needs to contact a certification body that audits to the standard they seek. The producer should be familiar with the tool (the checklist of audit requirements) so they know what the auditor will be looking for. Then the certification body will assign an auditor to the site and schedule the audit. A few days before the audit, the auditor will confirm the date and time and discuss any biosecurity guidelines. Upon arrival, auditors will go over the paperwork portion of the audit tool and then see the animals and facilities. The auditor will point out non-conformance issues. At the end, they will review non-conformances and answer questions. Then the site will need to address any non-conformances found and submit corrective action, either to the certification body or the organization that holds the standard, in the specified amount of time (depending on the audit tool).
While audit tools are slightly different, most have requirements for space per animal, feeder space, waterer space, light intensity, transportation guidelines, employee training, flock/herd management and euthanasia. Some also include guidelines for processing.
Some examples of animal welfare organizations that have standards and audit tools include American Humane, Humane Farm Animal Care, United Egg Producers, National Chicken Council, and Global Animal Partnership.
If you are interested in knowing what standards your holiday turkey or ham were audited to, check the product packaging for a label, and you can look up the standards online.