The Food Marketing Institute and National Council of Chain Restaurants in June issued their fourth status report on their joint Animal Welfare Program. The report describes their review of guidelines submitted by the National Chicken Council that address the welfare of chickens, and conditions and practices applicable to hatcheries, farm and breeder operations, transportation, and special agricultural practices.
The FMI represents more than 2,300 food retailers and wholesalers, including Wal-Mart. The NCCR is a national trade association comprising 40 of the nation's largest chain restaurant companies, such as the McDonald's and Burger King corporations.
At their members' urging, FMI and NCCR began their Animal Welfare Program in 2001 to identify science-based and measurable indices for desirable practices for growing, handling, and processing food animals.
Numerous producer groups, including the American Meat Institute, National Pork Board, and National Cattlemen's Beef Association, are participating in the program.
Groups submit their welfare guidelines for review by the seven-member FMI-NCCR Animal Welfare Advisory Panel, which includes noted animal scientist Temple Grandin, PhD. AVMA assistant director of professional and public affairs, Dr. Gail C. Golab, serves as AVMA liaison to the panel.
The FMI and NCCR member companies may choose to participate or not participate in the program. Producers and processors that supply participating companies may be asked to meet the guidelines endorsed by the panel and may be subject to audits.
After a February review of the National Chicken Council's guidelines, the FMI-NCCR panel gave its endorsement but with a few comments.
Pending further data, the panel accepted the council's standards allowing for no more than 30 percent of birds in a random sample to have cracks or ulcers on their feet. The panel also felt that 99 percent stunning effectiveness for a 500-bird sample is achievable, but 98 percent effectiveness is acceptable until existing rates can be reviewed.
Panel members did recommend guidelines in three areas additional to those submitted by the NCC. First, stocking density should not exceed six pounds live weight per square foot; second, because lighting programs influence the prevalence of skeletal disorders, birds should be provided with at least four hours of darkness per day; and finally, when birds are caught and inverted, they should be held by both legs.
In addition, the panel recommended that the checklist producers use to gauge conformance with the NCC guidelines include the following measures: of birds entering the picker, no more than 1 percent may have broken wings; and the number of birds arriving dead at the plant should not exceed 0.6 percent per day. Incidence above this level should trigger documentation, investigation, and corrective action.
The advisory panel meets again this August.