During the recent Academy of Veterinary Consultants conference in Norman, Okla., Lily Edwards-Callaway, PhD, outlined the evolving welfare program in JBS plants, and within the meat packer’s supply chains.

Prior to joining JBS to oversee the company’s animal-welfare programs, Edwards-Callaway earned her PhD studying under Temple Grandin at Colorado State University and served on the faculty at Kansas State University.

The government sets welfare standards for packing plants through the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and industry also provides guidelines, primarily through the American Meat Institute (AMI).  JBS, however, has developed its own standards and auditing processes that go beyond those from FSIS or AMI, says Edwards-Callaway.

The company has its own expectations, she says, and is working to build, support and maintain a culture of animal welfare among all its employees. Toward that goal, the company has developed and implemented a systematic approach toward humane handling and slaughter, incorporating nearly continuous audits of all live-animal processes within its plants.

The audit system has several components. In “biased’ audits, technical services specialists routinely observe and document animal-handling activities. For “unbiased” audits, JBS makes extensive use of remote video cameras monitoring all activities from the time cattle trucks arrive through slaughter. Edwards-Callaway and her crew can watch activities at any of those points on monitors in a viewing room. Video screens positioned in common areas in the company’s corporate offices allow company executives and staff to see how plant crews handle animals at all times.

In addition, a third-party audit company called Arrowsight can monitor the same cameras remotely and conducts random audits.

Edwards-Callaway says the company uses the videos primarily for training purposes. If an employee is seen violating protocols, the staff can view the videos with the employee, explaining what they did wrong and how to correct it. They also use the system for audits, and some type of welfare audit takes place in every plant virtually every day.

Edwards-Callaway receives daily tech services reports from every JBS plant, including scores for all live-animal activities, and she holds weekly meetings to review the reports. Graphs based on the scores allow her to track trends and intervene early if problems begin to appear in a particular area of a plant.

Since the company began using video cameras two years ago, Edwards-Callaway says there has been a steady reduction in the use of electric prods along with improvements in effective stunning and other measures of animal welfare.

JBS also has begun working back into its supply chain to coordinate animal welfare activities at the production stage, particularly with its Five Rivers Cattle Feeding subsidiary. The company also is engaged in a pilot project that monitors pig suppliers and documents animal-welfare practices, and Edwards-Callaway believes retailers and consumers will drive a trend toward documentation of welfare practices at every production stage.

View our video interview with Dr. Edwards-Callaway.