Poultry and meat producer Tyson Foods Inc. is launching a program to audit the treatment of animals at the poultry and livestock farms that supply the company.

The audits, called the Tyson FarmCheck Program, have already begun on a trial basis on some of the 3,000 independent hog farms that supply the company. Auditors are visiting the farms to check on such things as animal access to food and water, as well as proper human-animal interaction and worker training. The program has been under development since early spring 2012. Although Tyson personnel have been conducting the audits so far, the company plans to ultimately involve independent, third-party auditors. It also intends to expand the program to include chicken and cattle farms by January 2014.

The audits are being developed by veterinarians and animal welfare experts and are expected to include measures that build upon current voluntary farm industry programs. “These audits will give us a chance to correct any minor problems that are discovered and, if necessary, to stop doing business with any farms where animal treatment or conditions do not meet our standards,” said Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson.

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Tyson Foods also plans to develop a new Farm Animal Well-Being Research Program to review existing research as well as fund and promote additional research that the company said will lead to continued improvements in animal raising methods. “We want to identify and study the critical points — from breeding to harvesting — where the quality of life for livestock and poultry can be improved, and use the results to make a difference,” said Smith. “We know that content farm animals are healthier, and at Tyson Foods we want healthy animals.”

Both the FarmCheck program and the research programs will be overseen by a new, external, Animal Well-Being Advisory Committee that Tyson Foods is establishing. Those selected to serve will include people with expertise in farm animal behavior, health, production and ethics. The committee is expected to begin its work in March 2013 and will help Tyson Foods determine research priorities and ways to improve the FarmCheck Program.