Tyson Foods has installed video cameras in key areas of its poultry operations and will test new ways of killing birds – not in response to previous moments of ’embarrassment’ but as part of a business philosophy that emphasizes his role as caretaker of millions of chickens, the company mentioned.
The Springfield, Arkansas-based meat producer hired its first sustainability manager last month and will announce a series of animal welfare initiatives on Wednesday. In an interview on Tuesday, Justin Whitmore said that while abuses at a myriad of companies have come to light through secretly recorded videos, acting now avoids having to react later.
“We want to learn from the opportunities and challenges we face,” he said, seven weeks after taking office. “If we see something happening in our system, we will seek to put the appropriate measures in place to make sure it does not happen again.”
Tyson fired 10 workers last August after a video secretly recorded and compiled by an animal rights group showed chickens being crushed or swayed by their legs and wings. Tyson terminated a contract with a farmer a year earlier after another group posted a video showing workers standing on the heads of birds to break their necks. Over the past year, Hormel Foods has hired third-party listeners to examine hog farms after video showed animals in very tight spaces and another animal being thrown to the ground.
Lora Wright, director of animal welfare for Tyson, said Tuesday that over the past year, Tyson has installed the industry’s largest third-party monitoring system – with offsite auditors reviewing operations in the 33 Tyson’s poultry processing plants across the United States and focusing on areas where workers handle live animals. The company has also trained nearly five dozen animal welfare specialists like Stacy Barton, who grew up on a poultry farm.
“We make sure the birds are handled correctly and treated with respect and care every step of the way,” he said Tuesday outside of a 120,000 bird operation near Plumerville. Welfare officers are also trained on how cattle and pigs should be handled. Some of their visits are advertised; others don’t.
Additional but less intensive monitoring among producers raising chickens for Tyson is underway, said Adam Aronson, whose New York-based company Arrowsight monitors operations from a hub in Huntsville, Alabama.
“We monitor workers throughout the day,” Aronson said. Arrowsight regularly tells Tyson if workers are handling the birds properly.
While that sounds a bit like Big Brother, the general concept is “if you could replicate your best frontline managers at all times,” he said. “We are like the football coach watching from the cab with a helmet. That is indeed what is happening.”
He said Tyson is by far the most specialized in video auditing of poultry operations, after other companies launched it for beef, pork and turkey.
Bret Hendricks, who is responsible for the 7 million chickens that will one day be processed at Tyson’s Dardanelle plant, said the company has recognized that keeping the animal content helps results.
“If they’re happy, the more they eat the bigger they’ll grow,” said Hendricks before a visit to a growing operation in Plumerville. Inside, some of the 120,000 nine-day-old birds reared here scurried underfoot; others stayed near the automated feeding and watering stations. Each of the birds weighed just under half a pound each. At 33 days, they will average 3.65 pounds and be ready for slaughter.
The company also said it would experiment with “controlled atmosphere stunning”, in which birds are suffocated by carbon dioxide rather than being stunned and slaughtered.
“We think there might be an opportunity to treat and kill birds in a more humane way,” Whitmore said. “We … will test it.”
The company said it would also consider adding perches for the birds.