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Applying to A Greener World’s Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program is normally a straightforward decision for farmers and ranchers. After reading the program standards, most are excited about the opportunity to prove to customers their commitment to high-welfare management.
However, slaughter plant owners can have the opposite reaction. From experience, we know some plant owners wrongly assume A Greener World (AGW) is some kind of ‘animal rights’ group who want to record the killing of lovable animals for their next social media campaign. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But this misconception can be a major stumbling block for farmers and ranchers who want to use AGW program logos on their products.
Get your plant onboard
If you are thinking of becoming certified it is absolutely essential to get your slaughter plant involved as early as possible—ideally before you even apply. AGW programs are birth-to-slaughter certifications and getting your chosen slaughter plant to allow a review is critical to your farm certification and your ability to market meat using the program logo. Since you already have a positive relationship with your plant, we highly recommend the initial request to participate comes directly from you, rather than AGW.
The plant owner’s perspective
AGW’s third-party slaughter review is completely free to participating slaughter plants. As a result, some farmers assume their plant will throw open their doors, welcoming the opportunity to set them apart from the competition. But most slaughter plants already undergo intense inspection, often involving substantial paperwork. Many already feel they are over regulated—and with some justification. As well as the usual challenges encountered by any business, plants are faced with Food Safety Audits, Hazardous Critical Control Point (HACCP) documentation, state environmental and employment laws, daily operational and meat inspection by the USDA or state programs, not to mention public and media scrutiny. As a result, many owners won’t necessarily want another inspection or recognize the added benefit of being an AGW plant—especially if they already have misconceptions about the AGW program! So how do you persuade or encourage your slaughter plant to agree to an AGW review?
What’s in it for me? Most plant owners rightly want to know what’s in it for them—other than
earning or keeping your business! First, the AGW review process can save plants money by improving operational performance. Remember: AGW’s Slaughter Plant Specialist (SPS) team has reviewed hundreds of plants since 2006. Our SPS team has observed countless common-sense solutions to improved animal handling and movement, and one helpful suggestion could save the plant many labor hours. If it takes five extra minutes to load an animal due to balking, and the SPS can help improve movement with just 12 animals per day, that already equates to eliminating 60 minutes of balking per day. With three employees on the killfloor, that’s three labor hours’ per day saved simply by improving animal movement.
Second, the AGW slaughter plant review shows existing—and potential—customers the plant is committed to animal welfare. This is particularly important when it comes to the general public.
Most consumers have no knowledge of the USDA or state program regarding animal welfare.
Displaying the trusted AGW credentials clearly communicates the plant’s commitment to high-welfare handling and slaughter.
Finally, as the AGW program continues to grow, more and more farmers will actively seek participating plants so they can use the appropriate program logo(s) on their meat products.
More than USDA: Slaughter plant owners will often say, “I am already USDA Inspected and the inspector is in my plant every day. Why do I need someone else looking around?” While USDA is to be commended on recent progress towards higher welfare handling at slaughter, USDA inspection standards are generally geared more toward preventing the next E.coli outbreak and whether the plant is complying with basic food safety regulations than maximizing animal welfare at slaughter and improving meat quality.
Meat quality and stress: Farmers and ranchers expend a huge amount of time, talent, effort and, most importantly, money to produce a consistently high-quality product. Yet all this can be adversely affected during the last day —or even hours—of the animals’ life by activities at the slaughter plant. Animal welfare at slaughter cannot be ignored, as it directly affects product quality, as well as consumer perception of the end product. Aside from the obvious risks of bruising from poor handling or poor design/maintenance at the plant, numerous studies have shown unnecessary stress immediately before slaughter will adversely affect meat quality. There are several scientific reasons, including the formation of ATP (adenosine triopate) or muscle glycogen levels related to stress.
As an independent third-party reviewer, the SPS can provide valuable insight on animal movement and can identify possible cause and effect of animal welfare on meat quality, offering practical solutions to cut down on animal stress at unloading, holding, movement and stunning to help maintain meat quality.
Complete confidentiality: The AGW program is completely independent and impartial. Everything we do is confidential. The outcome of the slaughter plant review is shared with the plant management only. AGW staff will work behind the scenes with the plant owner to find a resolution to any animal welfare related issue.
AGW has real expertise: To get the job, every SPS must have many years’ experience in slaughter operations, as well as familiarity with farming and ranching. Once in position, every SPS receives world-class training in animal behavior and welfare at slaughter, with annual updates. Every SPS is also internationally recognized and certified as an Animal Welfare Officer and Poultry Welfare Officer.
What happens during the review?
What should a slaughter plant expect during the review? For a well-run plant, the review will simply confirm that best practice handling, stunning and slaughter is taking place, examining holding pens, alleyways, stunbox and stunning procedures. The process generally takes a couple of hours, depending on the number of animals and species, with a short meeting afterwards to discuss the SPS findings. Plant owners can review the AGW standards online or call the office to arrange an informal and confidential chat with our SPS team.
It makes sense for farmers and ranchers to get involved and talk to the slaughter plant about the AGW review as early as possible. Let’s partner together!
AGW certification and your slaughter plant
- Explain that you need the plant to undergo a basic review to sell your products using AGW logos
- Talk about AGW and help dispel any myths that AGW is an ‘animal rights’ group. Highlight our industry expertise and experience
- Explain that the AGW review is free and confidential, and could improve operational performance —and profits
- Give them AGW’s Slaughter Guidelines for Red Meat/Poultry. See https://agreenerworld.org/certifications/animal-welfare-approved/standards/
- Plant owners can also call AGW for an informal chat at 800-373-8806
Author Charlie Hester is Slaughter Plant Specialist with A Greener World