Standardizing Animal Welfare through Empowerment and Best Practices
October 24, 2019
Susi Shifflette started supporting OSI’s sites in Europe from her position at OSI Group headquarters in Aurora, Illinois in early 2018. Those trips typically lasted a month or so and were designed to help OSI's European facilities improve on their monitoring and standardization of animal welfare practices. Before long, though, Susi’s trips turned into a full time move to Europe, where she is now working to empower the entire OSI supply chain - and the industry as a whole - to advocate for and work on behalf of one group: the animals.
Before moving to Europe, Susi was a beef and pork vendor specialist. She essentially acted as a liaison between suppliers and the facilities making products from those raw materials. Through this work and her work as a member of the Pork Council Technical Team and the Beef Council Technical Team, Susi became very familiar with various OSI facilities and the standards and practices used in animal welfare.
Her involvement in Europe began when Susi was called to take a trip to Germany to help an OSI facility review its animal welfare practices and operations. She helped them install systems and establish checklists to ensure that the standards in place were being met. She also ensured that data was being tracked to help the facility improve wherever possible.
She helped them develop a checklist with the hopes that it (and the practices it outlined) would be shared with other facilities and other countries to help standardize animal welfare practices throughout Europe. This, she knew, would enable the sharing of best practices and remove subjectivity from the process.
“In the United States, the industry works together with the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO), Dr, Temple Grandin and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), among others,” said Shifflette. “This helps us all speak the same language in the USA, which has not been the case in Europe.”
It wasn’t that facilities in Europe didn’t have standards and checklists that they used. Everyone was doing something, but the differences between each country in the European Union (EU) and their production and processing practices meant that facilities were operating in silos that were often different from their other OSI counterparts.
THE STANDARDIZATION OF ANIMAL WELFARE BEST PRACTICES IN EUROPE
Susi began implementing best practices through an internal auditing scheme in Europe, which had been used in the United States for years. OSI knew it worked and thought that it could work in Europe as well with the right person managing its application and adoption in countries with different laws and restrictions.
Susi and the OSI team altered a few minor things in the scheme to ensure it fit within EU requirements and laws. She went into each OSI facility in Europe and taught them how to audit with direct observation as well as cameras. She helped them understand that it wasn’t enough to have cameras installed. She taught them that cameras had to be in the right positions, taking images of the right things as well as how to utilize the footage once it was captured.
The incredible amount of work and responsibility that this role necessitated and the value she knew she could add caused Susi to make the permanent move to Europe. She knew that upskilling all the facilities, monitoring progress and making continuous improvements would be a full time job. She had to devote her entire mission at OSI to enhancing the practices of OSI’s facilities in Europe and supporting improvements in the industry as a whole.
“I took this job because I know it is a good opportunity to make a change,” said Shifflette. “Those of us who like to see their work shine big and bright enjoy these kinds of roles, because we want to see a positive difference in the work we are doing on a daily basis.”
UTILIZING THIRD PARTY MONITORING AND TECHNOLOGY FOR ANIMAL WELFARE
Susi and OSI understand that some of the first critical steps that need to be taken for a world-class program, include the administrative tasks of building a system, including developing checklists and teaching people at the facilities how to audit. More importantly, we also know that another level of oversight and accountability is needed. That is why OSI had already contacted a monitoring service.
OSI began working with an independent, third party monitoring service, in 2005. This service offers remote video auditing (RVA) that can cover the entire sequence of farming operations, from live animal handling to further processing, and the entire breadth of criteria from animal welfare to food safety and margins. This is a great solution for providing quality assurance within our own operations and on behalf of our supply chains. This technology and its associated practices have been incorporated across all of OSI Foodworks in Europe.
DEDICATED ANIMAL WELFARE OFFICERS AT EACH FACILITY IN EUROPE
Advocating on behalf of animals at each facility and throughout the EU is a mammoth task. That is why Susi and OSI have identified and trained dedicated animal welfare officers at each facility. These officers are responsible for animal welfare from the moment the animals are delivered through every other interaction at the facility. Part of training these officers means empowering them, so they can immediately halt an action that they might observe as below standard. These officers' primary accountability is to the animals and they are taught to operate with that in mind.
Susi and the animal welfare officers are also working hard to capture data. Capturing data accomplishes many things in the journey of improving animal welfare. Firstly, it allows OSI and the rest of the industry to measure and compare. If everyone has the same metrics it is a lot easier to champion the facilities that are performing well and to help the facilities that need improvement.
Second, capturing and utilizing universal data removes a lot of subjectivity in the analysis of animal welfare performance. Rather than solely relying on the human eye and the human mind, which can be prone to error, data provides yet another tool to measure performance and track progress.
“I can check the same data through each one of our facilities, compare the data between each facility and then look at the larger, whole numbers,” said Shifflette. “I can see who is doing well and use them as an example to teach others to do well also. The improvements do not have to be fast, but we definitely want to see that we are making improvements on a continual basis.”
Working with data and removing subjectivity from the process also helps encourage immediate and appropriate reactions when something is happening that perhaps shouldn’t be. This helps front line employees have the authority to stop something first and then get a supervisor, rather than getting supervisor first while a questionable action continues.
The data that is now being captured is sent to Susi every Monday, without exception. The data compiles information taken from two individual audits every day at each facility that monitor approximately 20 percent of operations in each facility, although many audits exceed that. In addition to the two daily audits, data is compiled by OSI's independent auditor, who monitors an additional and separate 10 percent of operations. If the data between internal audits and independent auditor match, Susi and OSI know that the monitoring and auditing in place is working. If not, we work to find out where the discrepancies are.
ANIMAL WELFARE PRACTICES ARE ALSO GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Animal welfare and good agricultural practices are pre-competitive issues at OSI. That is why we participate in programs along with other industry and supply chain members to identify and improve in areas and to continue to meet ethical standards and responsibilities. But advocating for animals and ensuring our practices are leading the industry are also good for our business and that of our partners.
Companies in the United States with robust animal welfare programs attract more attention and partnership opportunities with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This is not only the right thing to do, but also an appropriate and needed response to a more educated market. Consumers today are more informed than ever before and demand that the companies with which they engage are following principles and practices that align with their values.
This is why OSI is working to make positive influences in the USA, Europe and around the world beyond our own facilities. Susi and the team are now working on transporter training to make sure animals are healthy and treated well by the time they get to an OSI facility.
They are in the process of creating a transportation guidebook designed specifically for transporters, which will also come with a dashboard brochure for quick and easy reference. To help teach the principles and practices contained within this guidebook, Susi has created training modules for transporters that can be taken during their downtime, while the animals are being unloaded. That allows the transporters to take a quick course and finish one of the modules without taking additional time out of their day.
THERE ARE NO COMPETITORS WHEN IT COMES TO ANIMAL WELFARE, JUST PARTNERS
OSI believes that promoting animal welfare practices is something that should be done in partnership with the entire industry. This means that the company has no competitors in this realm, just partners.
In fact, Susi and OSI invited a commercial competitor to tour a facility that is performing well in animal welfare. They held nothing back and were very transparent with the operations in the facility. This commercial competitor then installed cameras at one of their own facilities and brought Susi in to show her.
“When it comes to animal welfare, there is no competition,” said Shifflette. “It is all about the animals.”
Because of the strides she and OSI have made, Susi is now involved with the German Meat Industry Association and has spoken at the International Society for Animal Hygiene. She has also been asked to go to Bangkok in 2021 for the ISAH Congress to update the industry on the progress that OSI has made.
“This is not the end. This is just the beginning and there is a lot more to come,” said Shifflette. “Even though it sounds like we have done a lot, and we have, there is a lot more work we are excited to do. The goal is not the end, but the journey itself.”