Agreed indicators should help drive poultry-industry welfare
Using key welfare indicators (KWIs) can help fill a communication gap around welfare progress in the US poultry industry.
That’s the view of Ken Opengart, DVM, PhD, vice president, animal welfare and international sustainability for Tyson Foods.
“Historically, we haven’t really shared a lot of information as an industry with our customers about what we’re working on relative to animal welfare and the types of metrics we’re using to measure improvement,” he told Poultry Health Today.
“That gap has facilitated an opportunity for us that we should take advantage of, and that is to use key welfare indicators or measures of outcomes.”
Specific KWIs vary according to what part of the production process is being looked at and include aspects such as injury rates and stunning efficacy.
Data over emotion in welfare debate
The main advantage of KWIs is that they are objective and measurable, allowing the industry to move away from “emotive arguments” about welfare, he suggested, with poultry veterinarians having a key role in sharing progress with those outside the industry.
“Without telling the story, it’s left to the imagination. They don’t know what we’re doing; they don’t know if we’re doing anything,” he continued.
“To be able to communicate with facts and figures…and focus on continuous improvement, the customers that we speak with walk away just feeling reassured that the industry has their back and that we’re working on the right things.”
Welfare is crucial for poultry businesses, with welfare outcomes closely linked to overall performance.
“We as the industry look at this really holistically: Welfare, economics and food availability all intertwine very closely together,” he noted.
Technology will increase indicator impact
Tyson Foods is part of the International Poultry Welfare Alliance, a multi-stakeholder organization which has been working to agree on shared KWIs for the industry. The guidelines should be available later this year.
A focus on continuous improvement, rooted in such agreed upon guidelines, is a better approach than fixed performance standards, Opengart suggested.
“The difficulty with performance standards is that everybody typically tends to be in a different place. What we worry about is setting a standard that may be too low for some and too high for others, and in that way may stifle any activity,” he said.
“We’re more interested in letting the individual companies set their own standards. And that way, when they achieve a goal, they can move the goal…we’re not going to be happy until animal welfare’s no longer an issue…there’s a long journey there.”
Technology will aid the drive toward improvements, he noted, with artificial intelligence and machine learning involved in monitoring KWIs.
“We’ll move from sampling flocks, birds within flocks…to being able to capture all the birds in a house or all the birds at the processing plant from a farm, which will really improve the quality of the information that we’re able to use,” he added.
Posted on December 13, 2022