Tyson Foods announced today that amongst several new developments, it has rolled out a “high-tech, high-touch” system to improve animal welfare within its operations.
The new system has arrived almost one year after a secret video showing abuse at three of its Virginia chicken processing plants infuriated consumers and animal rights activists. One Tyson executive was moved to describe the video footage as “disgusting.” The video ultimately prompted the company to retrain poultry workers on animal welfare policies.
For years, Tyson has been under pressure for business practices that critics say have contributed to environmental degradation, concerns over food safety and animal abuse. The $41 billion food giant, however, has insisted in recent years that it is becoming a more responsible and sustainable operation. On one hand, the company claims it has been nudging its suppliers to adopt more humane approaches such as the phasing out of gestation crates. And Tyson has also raised eyebrows with investment strategies, such as last fall’s announcement that it purchased a stake in the plant protein start-up Beyond Meat. Technology also appears to be part of this shift with last week’s news that a former Hewlett Packard Enterprise executive was hired as Tyson’s chief technology officer.
It is on the technology front where Tyson says it can make strides on improving animal well-being. The company has implemented a system called remote video auditing (RVA) within 33 of its chicken processing plants. The system is basically a nannycam on steroids. The company Tyson has engaged to install this system, Arrowsight of Westchester County, New York, describes itself as a leader in motion and video detection technologies that are used by a wide array of food processing companies. Tyson says the adoption of RVA can help the company monitor whether safety procedures and animal welfare rules are being followed, while allowing immediate follow-up should the system raise any concerns.
Furthermore, the company says it will introduce a pilot project for controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) at two poultry plants this year. The CAS process removes oxygen from the chickens’ atmosphere while they are still in their transport crates. Instead of being “gassed,” they die from the lack of oxygen, or anoxia. Oxygen from the chickens’ environment is removed and slowly replaced with a nonpoisonous gas that puts the chickens “to sleep.”
Animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advocate CAS over alternatives that are still the norm within much of the U.S. meat industry. One such process, electric immobilization, has long been opposed by animal welfare activists as they say it is far more cruel, and causes numerous problems related to animal welfare, economic, and workplace safety.
In a public statement, one noted animal well-being expert appears to be encouraged by Tyson’s latest announcement. “Animal welfare is part science, part compassion, and it requires management’s commitment to learning, training, and constant monitoring,” said Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University who also serves an advisor to Tyson.
Image credit: Tyson Instagram