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INDUSTRY Getting everyone on the same page M ost cattle feedlot operators are justifiably proud of the high animal welfare standards they maintain in their yards. They know they do a good job: now they have a tool to prove that fact to packers, retailers and consumers too. In December 2015, the National Cattle Feeders Association unveiled its brand new Canadian Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Program. The voluntary (for now) audit tool allows feedlot operators to measure and prove that they handle and care for their beef cattle according to safe, humane standards. If you are thinking, “Yikes, this sounds like yet more hoops, bureaucracy and paperwork for feedlot opera- tors”, don’t worry: the program’s developers say the audit tool is designed to be realistic, practical and easily implementable. Most importantly, they add, an audit is absolutely necessary in today’s consumer reality. “Consumers want proof that the meat they eat was raised with care. Retailers are putting pressure on pack- ers, so the packers have to pass that back to the feedlots where they’re sourcing their fed cattle,” says Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed, a feedlot veterinarian and the pro- gram’s project manager. “The days when you could farm in isolation and do whatever you want are gone. “It’s just common sense: we all want to be in busi- ness long term and we can’t afford to alienate custom- ers. Cattle producers need the social licence to operate. If auditing our animal welfare practices is what con- sumers demand, that’s what we have to be willing to provide. Heaven forbid a major retailer goes foreign to source their beef.” According to Van Donkersgoed, regular animal wel- fare auditing by packers and/or retailers at feedlots is simply a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. As such, the National Cattle Feeders’ creation of an audit tool is intended to proactively manage the scope and demands of the inev- itable, not to add unnecessary administrative burden to feedlot operators. Two years ago, a packer sent the National Cattle Feeders draft affidavits which, if implemented, would have required feedlot operators to sign off that they were following federal transportation regulations, using CLT truckers, and implementing the Canadian 24 | June 2016 Beef Code of Practice. Initially, the operator’s word and signature would have been enough to prove confor- mance. However, the National Cattle Feeders realized a demand to actually verify conformance was going to follow on the heels of the draft affidavit. And, they real- ised that other packers – and likely retailers too - were going to follow suit. “The absolute last thing we wanted was for different packers and retailers to come out with different feed- lot welfare requirements, since that would just create chaos. So we contacted the three major packers -Cargill, JBS and Tyson Foods - and suggested we work together to build something all beef value chain stakeholders could agree to. We wanted one single, consistent feedlot welfare audit tool so that no matter who comes to audit, it would be the same program requirements and a sin- gle audit would be recognized by multiple packers and retailers,” says Van Donkersgoed. The National Cattle Feeders immediately jumped into gear, spearheading an audit creation commit- tee made up of animal welfare experts from multiple parts of the beef value chain, including packers, the SPCA, animal scientists, feedlot veterinarians, and feedlot producers. “Our committee’s job was to look at the Canadian Beef Code of Practice (released in 2013 by the National Farm Animal Care Council) and figure out how we could take that guidance document and turn it into an audit tool,” says Van Donkersgoed. “It took us a long time to turn what was basically warm and fuzzy moth- erhood statements into something that could be objec- tively measured.”