Tyson Foods announced a new on-farm audit program that is meant to ensure the proper care and handling of the animals at the livestock and poultry farms that supply the company. The program, called FarmCheck, will involve animal-welfare experts checking each farm in the Tyson supply chain. Auditors are visiting the farms to check on such things as animal access to food and water, as well as proper human-animal interaction and worker training.

The move was praised by many in the industry.

“This program makes it very clear that mistreatment of farm animals will not be tolerated,” said Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. “It will be useful for training farm employees on proper animal handling.”

“We’re working with these animals every day, so it’s to our benefit that we treat them properly and keep them as healthy as possible,” said Dennis Gratz, a hog farmer from Farmington, Iowa. “All of our employees have gone through animal handling training and we have posted instructions in our facilities reminding them of the proper way to treat hogs. Tyson’s auditing program is worthwhile because everything we can do to document our actions and show we’re providing excellent animal care – especially as customers get further removed from the farm – is a good thing.”

Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of Food, Walmart U.S., said, “We believe Tyson’s plan is a good model, and we strongly encourage suppliers without such programs to look for ways they can improve the way food is produced. To make a difference in the food supply chain, we must all work together. From the farm to the fork, we are committed to working with our suppliers, NGOs, government leaders and others to ensure the food supply system in place today is safe, sustainable and affordable.”

The acclaim was not universal.

"Where else but in a monopoly controlled market can a corporation infringe on the private property rights of independent farmers and ranchers to extract valuable marketing information without having to pay a dime?" asked R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

R-CALF is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the program immediately to see if it violates U.S. antitrust laws and the Packers and Stockyards Act by eliminating choices and competition for independent U.S. farmers and ranchers.

"If Tyson wants this valuable marketing information, it should offer a premium to family farmers and ranchers who wish to participate. But, Tyson knows it possesses monopolistic power in the U.S. cattle market and it is brazenly exercising its monopolistic power to exploit independent U.S. family farmers and ranchers,” Bullard says.

The Humane Society of the United States, meanwhile, noted that the audit program does not include a pledge to end the use of gestation crates at its hog production facilities.

“Audits are valuable if farm inspectors ask the right set of questions,” said HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle in a statement. “We’ve not suggested that Tyson contractors are denying food to animals or intentionally abusing them, but that they are denying them enough space to even turn around. Tyson’s announcement would mean more if the company was getting its pork from farmers who do not confine sows in crates that immobilize the animals.”

Sources: Tyson Foods, R-CALF USA, HSUS