Tyson Foods’ Approach to Animal Welfare
Putting Animals First
Q:What makes Tyson Foods’ approach to animal welfare research and innovation different from that of other food companies?
A:Research and innovation are part of our culture. Our Advisory Panel, our Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) and our internal subject matter experts collaborate and guide our research priorities. This structure along with our broiler research farm, other commercial farms used for research, and our partnerships with suppliers is evidence of our strong commitment to continuously improve the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care.
Q:How did Tyson Foods choose the key welfare indicators (KWIs) that are measured each year?
A:Our KWIs are outcome-based and are valuable metrics because they measure how different aspects of a living environment impact an animal. We’ve chosen specific indicators to focus on that can be measured consistently across our operations. Our business leadership and the OAW approves these metrics, and we monitor progress by reviewing them throughout the year and reporting annually. Today’s KWIs are not a finish line, however—once we have met our targets, we will add new KWIs as we strive for continuous improvement.
Q:Why is it so important to focus on outcomes, rather than inputs such as breed or stocking density?
A:Inputs tell us about prescriptive requirements present in an animal’s environment, such as stocking density or the breed of animal. Inputs do not tell us anything about the quality of the animal’s life or the impact of those requirements on the outcomes in the animal. Outcomes are measurable indicators that reflect the true impact of the environment or management practices on the animal’s welfare. Favorable welfare outcomes can be produced with many different types of inputs, but specific inputs do not guarantee favorable welfare outcomes. Outcomes can be measured and tracked and we, therefore, set targets for continuous improvement. As Dr. Temple Grandin often says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Q:How do changes to an animal’s environment affect other variables, like environmental sustainability?
A:Our decades of experience overseeing the care of animals and producing food has taught us how to produce protein sustainably. Our approach balances animal welfare with concerns such as optimizing the use of water, energy and land used to produce food sustainably. Changing these variables—for example, by switching to slower-growing broiler chicken breeds that require more feed, water and energy before they reach maturity—disrupts this balance. That’s another reason we emphasize outcomes, rather than inputs: many resourced-based inputs that seem important to people may in fact have little direct benefit to animals or their welfare; focusing on areas that improve animal welfare outcomes enhances responsibility and sustainability of animal agriculture.
Q:Why is animal preference so important to our approach to animal welfare research?
A:Tyson Foods is utilizing animal preference as part of our research strategy to better understand what animals want and need. The animals’ voices in the decisions we make help us understand how to improve their welfare. As Marian Dawkins explained in her paper, “Through Animal Eyes: What behaviour tells us”. (2006), “We now have a wide range of methods for “asking” animals what they want and we should have the humility to use this evidence and ask the animals rather than automatically assuming that we know from our human standpoint”.
Q:The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are frequently cited in the animal welfare space. What is Tyson Foods’ position on this framework?
A:The Five Freedoms have been at the center of welfare science for the last 25 years, and we acknowledge their significance in the development of our welfare program. Within any scientific discipline, however, there is evolution of ideas as more is learned and debated. The increasing need to measure welfare outcomes has led to the re-framing of the Five Freedoms into The Five Domains. The Five Domains is a more modern conceptual framework of animal welfare that includes the promotion of the positive aspects of nutrition, environment, health, behavior and the animal’s mental state. Focusing on the importance of positive experiences, as well as avoiding suffering, encourages us to use technology, research and creativity to find ways to protect animal welfare. Progress on this area is essential for continuous improvement in welfare standards.