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Questions remain for national animal welfare

Walt Cooley Published on 21 September 2010

Thanks to all those who continue to share their opinions about what you believe is necessary to create true dairy reform. Although our summer-long poll about support for front-running plans has closed, we will continue to follow developments surrounding dairy reform. This magazine features three pages of updates, including news about the Specter-Casey Bill, Foundation for the Future program and the Dairy Price Stabilization Act.

For sure, more updates will be forthcoming. Whether you’ve decided that an existing plan has your vote of confidence for reform or are still undecided, please vote in our current poll. We’re asking: “Have you decided what plan you support as the best option for dairy reform?”

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Also in this issue is an article updating you on the status of the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. Remember, this is the program that was announced with much fanfare last year as the dairy industry’s animal welfare program. At that time, a rigorous time line for implementation was scheduled. Throughout 2010, we’ve been asking for updates and watchdogging its progress. In our opinion, implementation has been slow.

One possible explanation for the slow start is that the program is trying to cross all its T’s and dot all the I’s before rolling out a comprehensive program. And while FARM is just now beginning to publicize its progress (see the article on page 36 for what California is doing), it’s been kept on the low-down so that a significant number of producers could test-drive it before it is offered nationally.

Here’s a few of the concerns about the program I’ve heard from veterinarians, processors, co-ops and producers about FARM so far.

“Will it be stringent enough?”

I spoke with a veterinarian recently hired to work for Dean Foods. My source at the corporate milk processor said it was looking at creating its own animal welfare assurance program, and still are, but are now in a holding pattern, watching how FARM will perform. The underlying concern: Are the standards high enough to meet customer expectations?

“How will it conflict with regional quality assurance programs that have been around for awhile already?”
Another veterinarian who had participated in FARM’s Train the Trainer program called me earlier this year. He too expressed concern about the easiness of the program’s standards but also about the consistency of grading them across the nation. Having participated in a regional quality assurance program before, he also found it hard not to see how FARM wouldn’t be in competition with existing programs.

“Why does NMPF need to own animal welfare data? We want to keep our members’ welfare scores. We don’t want them in a database that is nationally run.”
Co-ops are reticent to give the data they help collect to a national organization. In many ways, this debate feels much like that of national animal identification. Like the animal ID discussion, producers should ask how their data is being used and how it adds value to their products before easily giving up animal welfare data about their premises to a national organization.

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We will continue to watch over the FARM program and its progress. It’s clear that others, including important stakeholders, are too. PD

Walt Cooley
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