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Welfare Concerns at Packing Plants

Cargill executive shares welfare focus areas.

Animal welfare is an important issue, and Mike Siemens, Cargill’s head of welfare and animal husbandry, said packing plants have as much of a stake in the game as cattlemen. Greater attention to welfare is an industry initiative, he emphasized. It is not a marketing tool, because that creates a “close enough” mentality and makes for a meaningless and thoughtless supply chain. It is the right thing to do, and the cattle industry can’t just hide behind the science of performance, he asserted.

Wade Nichols

The cattle industry can’t just hide behind the science of performance, Mike Siemens, Cargill’s head of welfare and animal husbandry, told those gathered at the fifth International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare.

Siemens spoke to more than 100 attendees representing five countries at the fifth International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare in Manhattan, Kan., June 8-10.

He shared that consumer trust has eroded because negative stories have greater footholds, aided by many active activist groups.

So, Cargill has many areas of focus in regard to animal welfare. Of those, antibiotic resistance is a high priority. He said the company wants to reduce antibiotic usage by 20% in the cattle it owns, and plans to tie requirements to Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), the dairy industry’s Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM), and Canada’s Verified Beef Production programs in terms of nutrition and humane handling.

By partnering with these programs, they hope to get more education out to farmers on how to handle cull cows by marketing them sooner or euthanizing bad cases at the farm instead of transporting them to the packing plant.

There are many sources of stress in the last 30 days on feed, including biological stress, heat stress, metabolic stress and more. He added that Cargill is working on a Beef Transport Quality Assurance (BTQA) with BQA to ensure that livestock are handled as well as possible during transportation, noting that bruising costs the industry $117 million in carcass trim.

“There is a difference between learning to drive a truck versus learning about livestock,” Siemens noted. This program would provide training for drivers and education for animal handlers.

In the future, he predicted enhanced programs and audit requirements for all phases of animal production and harvest, with increased legislation and regulation at the plant level with a possible extension back to the farm level. Additionally, consumers will increase pressure to raise the bar on welfare issues until changes are made, noting gestation stall and cage-free eggs as major examples. Those in agriculture should defend what is scientifically proven, but understand societal concerns, he concluded.

Watch for additional coverage of the 2016 ISBCW on and in the Angus Journal and Angus Beef Bulletin. Comprehensive meeting coverage will be archived at

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