‘Audit’ not always a bad word

A reworking of the old 5-Star Dairy Quality Assurance Program, the National Dairy FARM Program is a verifiable animal well-being program. FARM stands for Farmers Assuring Responsible Management. The program seeks to provide uniform best management practices in dairy animal care and quality assurance.

“FARM is not an auditing program, not a certification program and not an individual farm marketing tool. It is a continual educational/improvement tool,” said Marcia Endres, DVM, at the recent 2010 Minnesota Dairy Herd Health Pre-Conference. Endres is an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Minnesota.

“Regardless of the terminology used to describe it, FARM is here to stay,” Endres added.

Dairy processors are now requiring producer patrons to implement FARM. It is a trickle-down effect: Major retailers like YUM! Brands Inc. (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Long John Silver’s) require processors that supply them to verify the animal well-being on processors’ patrons’ farms.

Dairy producers and professionals are learning about the program and evaluation process. Workshops are being held to help producers and their advisers conduct self-assessments using a 77-item checklist. The checklist is not pass/fail, but rather a review of best management practices to identify those that should be improved upon. Starting in the second half of 2010, second-party evaluations, conducted by farms’ advisers, will be done every three years.

Starting in late 2011 or 2012, a statistical sample of those enrolled in FARM will undergo third-party verifications using the same checklist. The third-party evaluator will have no prior experience with the farm. All information collected from farms will remain confidential; only overall summaries will become public.

Ag connection is gone

It seems the days of trusting the American farmer are gone. Only 3% of the U.S. population is engaged in or directly knows someone engaged in agriculture. Consumers are scared about the safety of their food because they don’t understand where it comes from.

Sixteen percent of the U.S. population is involved in organized animal activism. As Nigel Cook, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, pointed out at the Minnesota Dairy Herd Health Pre-Conference: “The U.S. is home to well-funded, powerful organizations … that promote vegetarianism and the dissolution of many modern farming practices that are considered inhumane. Undercover exposures of brutality on farms and in slaughter plants have aided these organizations in adding credibility to their argument.”

Verification programs identify the worst farms, reduce the mishandling of certain individual farm animals (downer cows), and work to eliminate some of the practices consumers find offensive (tail docking and dehorning without anesthetic). But from the farm animals’ perspective, the audit will only help their well-being when the reason for failure is identified and corrected.

One of my professors used to say, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.” Real measurement scores must be used against benchmarks; score body condition, hock lesions, lameness, hygiene, failure of passive transfer, somatic cell count, mastitis cultures, etc.

Producers need to figure out how to fix failing scores. As Cook said, “This type of [outcome-based] process will not only achieve the goal of assuring that the animals are cared for and that the food is safe, but also — and most importantly in my view — that the auditing process actually results in a net improvement in animal well-being.”

Stuttgen, DVM, is the Taylor County Extension agriculture educator.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of WISCONSIN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.