The credibility of third-party auditing for food safety took a giant hit when Bart Stupak testified in Washington, “How many dead mice do you have to find in your food to get an excellent rating?” USA Today reported that he was referring to an audit done at the Wright Country Egg packing plant. This company was part of the huge egg recall after people got sick from Salmonella. Unfortunately, the public is not going to be very sympathetic when the auditing firm explains that they were hired to audit the egg-packaging facility and not the adjacent farm.
I have been training auditors for the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO) for several years on how to conduct the American Meat Institute Animal Welfare audit. There is a constant tension between certain representatives in the meat industry who want to restrict the scope of an audit so it is easier for a plant to pass. They want an auditor to only audit the exact items on the guideline. That is fine for the formal part of the audit, but I always emphasize to auditors that they must write good comments as part of their plant visits. If I had audited that egg facility and the packaging room had passed with an excellent rating, I would have still looked at the farm connected to the packaging area. If I were refused entry, I would have written that in the comments. If I had seen filth, I would have commented on it. I am in the unique position where I am traveling back and forth between the world of the public and the world of the meat industry. I constantly think to myself, ‘Could I defend my audit at a Barnes and Noble in New York or at a Hollywood press conference?’
Three legs of a tripod
An effective auditing program for either animal welfare or food safety that is conducted by a major retailer or restaurant company has three parts. They are:
1) Internal audits by the supplier company’s quality assurance people;
2) Third-party audits; and
3) Some random audits by the buyer. I call these corporate audits.
These corporate audits ensure that the third-party auditing company is doing its job.
It is like a tripod. It has to have three legs to be stable. The major peanut companies did not have to recall any products because they had already removed the Peanut Corporation of America from their approved supplier list. This was done during a corporate audit. Some of the other smaller buyers were not doing corporate audits, and they had to recall a lot of product. Unfortunately, the entire peanut industry suffered losses from the peanut recall.
Need strict standards
There is a certain segment of the industry that gets on standards committees so they can water down standards. I have seen this in four different trade organizations that work with three different animal species. They want to set standards so the worst farms or plants can pass. We need to set standards that we can easily defend to the public. Agriculture needs to look at everything we do and ask, ‘Could I show this to my wedding guests?’ If you are squirming now, then some practices may need to be changed. A wellrun slaughter plant would pass the “wedding-guest” test.
Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.