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1208 PD: Wisconsin producer adopts American Humane label

Published on 15 August 2008

Red Barn Family Farms in Wisconsin introduced a new brand of milk this spring that was the first of its kind.

Since then, the company has been promoting a product that is labeled as “Farmer Certified rBGH free” and “American Humane Certified.”

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According to Red Barn’s website (www.redbarnfamilyfarms.com), the company is currently made up of three dairy farm families, all of whom follow specific guidelines called the “Red Barn Rules,” which “go above and beyond” the American Humane Association’s certification process. By complying with these rules, Red Barn producers are assuring consumers that they earn their living from the farm and care for their animals themselves, that a veterinarian evaluates each cow twice a year to make sure she and the rest of the herd are healthy and that the milk is of the highest quality.

Although Dr. Terry Homan, founder of Red Barn Family Farms, is confident in the farms’ compliance with the Red Barn Rules, he believes the American Humane label guarantees the quality of his product for his customers.

“[The label] provides third-party validation of the animal’s health and husbandry that occurs on our farm,” Homan says. “To me, it gives credibility to what our Red Barn Rules already ensure.”

Homan recognizes that other animal welfare labels exist, but he thinks American Humane Certified is the right balance for Red Barn. He says they are stringent but reasonable.

Background of American Humane Certified
As a non-profit organization that has been around for more than 130 years, Tim Amlaw, program manager of American Humane Certified, says the American Humane Association has been the initiator of many animal welfare policies and proposals. Although the association is also known for their work in protecting children and saving animals, the organization formed its roots by advocating for the humane treatment of livestock. The American Humane Certified program, which until 2007 used to be called the “Free Farmed” program, now includes supportive producers from the beef, chicken, pork, sheep, turkey, egg and dairy industries.

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One of the main goals of the American Humane Certified program is to help producers provide their consumers with a higher level of assurance.

“Consumers are divorced from the food source,” Amlaw says. “But they can rely on the [American Humane Certified] seal on their products.” He says the program works to ensure that producers are continuously working to improve their operations to provide consumers with the safest and healthiest products possible.

Becoming certified
To begin the certification process, producers must have a license. They then contact American Humane Certified for its standards packet, and they must complete a farm instruction booklet, receive health records from a licensed veterinarian and fill out other documents that provide information about the farm and its animal welfare standards. Upon receiving the completed documentation, American Humane Certified will review the documents and then arrange for an assessor to evaluate the producer, the employees, the animals and the farm premises based on the guidelines found in the American Humane Certified packet.

Producers pay an administrative fee of about $400 and then must pay the assessors, as well. Amlaw says the assessment usually takes a minimum of 10 hours a day and amounts to about $1800 for the producer.

As program manager, Amlaw was the driving force behind arranging for third-party auditors for this assessment process.

“We wanted to take out all of the subjectivity,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that each farm was being evaluated with full audit methodology.”

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American Humane utilizes resources such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO). Validus, whose auditors are ISO trained and will be PAACO- certified, is the main resource for American Humane. Amlaw says Validus auditors are familiar with the agricultural industry and focus on dairy animal welfare.

In order to receive American Humane certification, producers must receive a score of at least 457 (85%) out of a possible total of 538 points. Once producers are certified, they must be reassessed each year to maintain certification.

Following the guidelines
Every employee must follow and every animal on the farm must meet the guidelines specified in the American Humane Certified packet. This packet, consisting of more than 240 pages, is the procedures required by American Humane. The document also contains additional guidelines, studies and suggestions provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Meat Institute.

Dairy farm managers must provide and ensure adequate training for their employees. American Humane recommends that managers adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for any violations of animal welfare performance. Managers must also create an “Emergency Action Plan” that details procedures in the event of a crisis.

Managers are required to maintain records in an “Animal Health Plan,” which should be regularly approved by a licensed veterinarian. Managers and employees should be able to detect signs of cattle illnesses in early stages.

Employees must also provide a safe and comfortable environment for cattle, which includes non-slip flooring, adequate lighting and effective ventilation. In addition, tail docking and the use of bST are strictly prohibited.

Controversy behind the label?
Amlaw recognizes this label might not sit well with other dairy producers, but he does not believe it should create a division.

“Just like not every cheesemaker makes the same cheese, not every dairy farmer produces the same milk,” Amlaw says. He compares the American Humane label to the Certified Angus Beef label, indicating that people value brand recognition.

Amlaw says that once consumers are given choices, demand in the entire market rises.

“If you can offer consumers what they want, it’s going to enhance the [dairy] industry, not divide it,” Amlaw explains.

Homan agrees and hopes that fellow dairy producers understand that he is trying to provide a niche market with a new option in the dairy case.

“There will always be commodity products,” Homan says. “I see my product as a value-added brand.”

In Amlaw’s opinion, the dairy industry is rapidly moving toward a new era that will involve increased consumer awareness and interest in animal welfare. He believes the label provides a guarantee to consumers and considers the Red Barn producers early adapters in the movement. He hopes other producers will soon follow Red Barn’s example.

“This [program] is truly a new opportunity for dairy producers,” Amlaw says. “It has a bright, innovative future, and producers can be more progressive in communicating with consumers.”

Although Homan does not believe the entire dairy industry is moving toward labeling products as “humanely raised,” he is confident a strong market exists for the new products. He is quick to point out that he is not trying to imply that other producers treat their animals inhumanely.

However, he says his farms “achieve excellence.” PD

Emily Caldwell
Staff Writer
Progressive Dairyman

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