FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Dr. Temple Grandin, animal handling and welfare expert and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, announced her latest challenge to the meat and poultry industries, and the farms that care for and raise the animals for processors.

On Feb. 7, in Fort Collins, Colo., Grandin presented the "Dr. Temple Grandin Certified, Sustainable & Humane" program, a 21-principle certification offered to any processor who believes in not only proper animal husbandry practices but also in following sustainable agriculture methods. The program was unveiled exclusively to The National Provisioner and Niman Ranch's business partners, and was created in conjunction with Niman Ranch. It is founded on the belief that animals should be treated with respect and allowed to fulfill their instinctive behaviors without damaging the environment, as well as the belief that the land is a natural resource that must be preserved for generations to come.

"The thing I'm most concerned with [that brought about this program], is letting pigs wreck the land," Grandin told The National Provisioner. "Pigs will just destroy pasture if you overstock or don't rotate."

Grandin explained that the guidelines also address the use of nose rings in swine, a good example of how this program delicately balances between sustainable agriculture and humane animal handling.

"The nose rings that are put around the rim of the nose are the more severe rings that don't allow the pig to root at all," Grandin explains. "If they have a septum ring, they can root, gently. Some people who are purely welfare-minded want no rings at all -- but the pigs wreck the ground.

"You can't let them just destroy the land. They get to live outside, but they are going to have one little septum ring that will remind them not to tear the ground up, and the more severe rings will not be allowed."

Starting in August 2009, the program will be available to any processor. Companies wishing to be certified will be audited on 21 core principles developed by Grandin and Niman Ranch. These 21 principles must be met by all farmers and ranchers, regardless of the species of livestock they produce, and include the following:

— Animals must be given the opportunity to care for, interact with and nurture their young. In the case of swine, farrowing crates are not allowed.

— Practices must be implemented that prevent soil loss or degradation in production areas, minimize unacceptable or unintended poor air quality for family, workers and neighbors, and prevent water-quality degradation of surface and groundwater resources.

— Animals must be fed and 100 percent vegetarian diet and have a feeding plan that will guarantee a sufficient, well-balanced diet to appropriately meet their nutritional needs at their stage in life, and maintain required Body Condition Scores. Animals shall have access to their feed as long as is necessary for them to satisfy their nutrient requirements.

— Pasture and/or bedding are the preferred environments. To qualify as pasture, 75 percent or more of the land occupied by livestock in this program must have vegetation with a root system.

The program will be available to any processor, and a certification seal has been designed for companies to use on their product packaging, touting their place as a sustainable and humane processor.