|Foster Farms is the most|
recent accused for chicken
abuse by the Chicken Mafia
Mercy for Animals enlisted Bob Barker, the former "Price Is Right" host, TV personality, and animal rights advocate for more than 30 years, to host and narrate this shocking video.
If the above video is reliable evidence, something in this commercial chicken system is broken, and needs to be fixed.
The above video is alleged to have been shot in California USA, at Foster Farms poultry slaughterhouse in Fresno, and their three poultry farms in Fresno County. Once the undercover video was published, Foster Farms suspended 5 employees, and are doing re-training for the other employees in the areas investigated. The allegations received an immediate knee jerk reaction by the management of Foster Farms, blaming their employees. Foster Farms response to the video is here.
Foster Farms says that every employee has animal welfare training every year. If that's true, how do we explain the actions shown in the video? Does management give mere lip service in this training (ie. rolling their eyes, cracking jokes, turning it into a farce)? On the other hand, is every employee required to do a comprehensive comprehension test at the end of the training, to prove that they were paying attention, and fully understood? Using dummy chickens, can each employee demonstrate what they understand to be acceptable animal treatment at their work station, and what is unacceptable (and might lead to them being fired)?
In spite of Foster Farms putting 100% of the blame onto the employees in their press release, does the management of Foster Farms have any blood on their hands?
I have posted previously that all management, whether on chicken farms or aerospace manufacturing, have the following duties owed to each and every one of their employees:
Duties that Managers Owe to All Employees
- Ensure each employee knows exactly what is expected from them;
- Provide each employee with all the necessary resources to readily achieve what is expected (eg. money, training, equipment, data, feedback, recognition, dignity, respect, supervision, tools, etc.).
- Ensure each employee can (and does) measure and understand the difference between what is expected and what actually occurred.
- Ensure that all employees take prompt corrective action to close the gap(s) between what is expected & what actually occurred.
- Ensure that risks and non-conformances are promptly identified, and actions are taken to prevent their occurrence (or re-occurrence).
Did the management of Foster Farms do any of those 5 steps? If they didn't do all 5 steps in a comprehensive and effective manner, then the blame for the animal abuse sits on the shoulders of both Foster's management and the employees who actually did the abuse.
One news report on this scandal raised the issue of the poor working conditions suffered by the employees working at Foster Farms. If the employees feel abused in their jobs at the hands of Foster management, some employees may lash out at the animals they are forced to process at break neck speeds. As a hands-on employee on the chicken processing line, how do you keep your empathy and sanity in spite of the thousands of animals you send to their death every day, and avoid becoming desensitized to the animals' welfare?
In the video, Bob Barker (and/or Mercy of Animals) also blame the American Humane Association ("AHA") for enabling this abuse by falsely certifying Foster Farms and their chicken processes as "humane".
The Chicken Mafia is rich. Foster Farms is one of the biggest chicken producers in the US, with 10,000-employees, operations in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arkansas and Alabama, a comprehensive line of products that's sold globally, with over 100 producers on more than 7,000 farms. Foster Farms says they employ two full-time avian veterinarians and a poultry nutritionist. Where were these professionals when these abuses were ongoing? Did these professionals know about, suspect, or turned a blind eye to this abuse? I believe any corporation that big should have known better, and taken better care to prevent these issues from occurring.
The American Humane Association ("AHA") has an ongoing need for $12.8 million per year in funding their charity. Can the Chicken Mafia purchase and use the good name of AHA Certified Humane as a smoke screen? AHA says:
"Since 1877 the historic American Humane Association has been at the forefront of every major advance in protecting children, pets and farm animals from abuse and neglect."AHA doesn't own nor operate any animal welfare shelters. AHA has drafted a document of best practices and minimal accepted standards to which about 300 animal shelters have voluntarily endorsed, follow, and pay AHA to audit their compliance. AHA also has the exclusive contract to ensure that animals are well treated in all Hollywood movies and similar artistic productions.
There are others who also certify animal welfare excellence. For example, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), this label has the most stringent guidelines. It is only issued to meat that comes from independent family farms.
Humane Farm Animal Care has Certified Humane, which USA Today called the "Gold Standard" for animal welfare.
According to Charity Navigation, AHA has recently suffered a 16.3% drop in funding to its charitable programs for animal welfare.
PetSmart Charities (a recent spin off of the US for-profit pet store chain that has a similar purpose to AHA) has a 22.9% better charity effectiveness score that AHA, and a $51 Million per year budget; almost 4 times bigger than AHA. Obviously, older isn't necessarily better.
Does this loss of market share and exclusivity explain why AHA supported Foster Farms and the Chicken Mafia in their time of need, so as to obtain some quick cash for the AHA?
To become AHA certified for animal welfare, AHA requires an application, payment of a fee to AHA, an on-site audit by a certified ISO auditor who also has animal species-specific expertise, a review and approval of the audit results, employee training, and annual re-certification. Sounds pretty good to me. But is it effective, or a smoke screen?
The AHA standard for broiler chickens is 136 pages in length. I haven't read the entire document, but I skimmed through it, as well as fully read and analyzed a few key sections. There are a few typos, a few unclear sentences here and there, but for the most part, it seems to be a good standard to help ensure animal welfare.
Red Rover says that AHA's certification system is not as thorough as the other two major animal welfare certification bodies. Is that why Foster Farms chose AHA's system? Perhaps Foster Farms couldn't be bothered, or couldn't achieve compliance to the higher standards?
Whatever the answer, it seems to me that if a farm or chicken processing plant was fully compliant to the spirit and letter of AHA's standard, most people would find it acceptable. The Mercy for Animals video shown above is clearly in violation of all three standards for animal welfare.
Therefore we are left to question the AHA auditors that were sent to Foster Farms, the auditing process, and compliance by Foster Farms' employees to the defined animal welfare standard.
During AHA's audits, do the auditors seek objective evidence that Foster Farms' management has consistently and effectively implemented all 5 steps listed above?
Paper documents, by themselves, don't keep animals safe and well cared for. Many ISO-based quality management systems are bureaucratic, bloated, and ineffective; in spite of gold stars on their audit reports. I know, as I spent 27 years as a certified ISO auditor.
Management must be engaged, and vigilant to ensure they build a culture that believes, supports, and practices the applicable standards every hour of every day. Does Foster meet that criteria? If they did, they would have been aware (or suspected) the potential for abuse portrayed in the video, and stopped it from occurring (or re-occurring) long before the Mercy for Animals undercover operative arrived with their video camera.
It takes time, skill, and significant effort to do a comprehensive audit, looking for evidence of what occurs when the auditor is there, as well as what happens between audits. Are the auditors given sufficient time? Are auditors encouraged and supported to dig deep and have the confidence to report fully and honestly, in spite of cajoling and attempts at manipulation of audit results by the employees and management?
Are verification and validation audits done by outside auditors (separate from both the company being audited, and AHA as well)? This could be used to see if AHA auditors are doing full and comprehensive audits with consistent and repeatable results.
Hopefully, in time, we we learn the full details, and will be reassured how both Foster and the AHA certification process will both be improved.
Could we expect the same or similar results if Mercy for Animals did more undercover work in a factory farm and/or processing plant inside Canada? Unfortunately, based on my research on the Chicken Mafia in Canada, I'm sad to say it's likely as bad or worse in Canada as what Foster Farms got caught doing in the USA.
What are the opinions of CFC, CFO, and all the other provincial Chicken Boards about the incidents described in the video? It is a long standing legal precedent that silence should be interpreted as acceptance. Who will ask each and every one of these Canadian Chicken Boards, as well as the provincial and Federal supervising commissions what they have done (or will start doing) so that similar animal abuse in Canada's system will be prevented, and/or detected and remedial actions taken to prevent re-occurrence?
Today, I sent a link to this posting for both Foster Farms and the AHA, requesting their comments. If I receive anything (which I doubt), I will post it so the world can clearly know their positions on the issues raised in this Blog posting.
Small Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada ("SFPFC") has clearly defined its expectations for animal welfare. See Clauses 2 and 3 of SFPFC's Principles. Why hasn't the Chicken Mafia been able to do similarly?
Unfortunately, the Chicken Mafia gives all chicken farmers and chicken processors a bad name, even Small Flockers.