For more than 120 years, Hormel Foods has focused on treating animals humanely, simply because it is the right thing to do. In order to produce the highest quality products possible, we incorporate industry-leading animal care practices throughout the production process.
We construct our animal care practices by monitoring the best scientific data available, utilizing new technologies and incorporating years of hands-on experience. These factors allow us to have a consistent, measurable, and successful animal care program.
At Hormel Foods, animal care is a non-competitive issue and we are always willing to share our best practices with our suppliers; however, the company does not dictate which systems our independent producers use to operate on their farms—as long as they are compliant with the animal care standards outlined in our Supplier Responsibility Principles.
Throughout this section, we describe our commitment to responsible animal care practices and policies for hogs and turkeys.
Without question, Hormel Foods employs industry-leading animal care practices when breeding and raising livestock at our facilities, and we require that our suppliers do the same. We are committed to ensuring that each hog and turkey is raised in a healthy environment and treated properly, and this principle serves as the core foundation of our animal care policy.
To begin, we raise our hogs and turkeys in barns with climate-controlled environments. Raising animals indoors is beneficial because our housing systems keep animals healthier and protect them from predators, disease and extreme weather conditions. Within these facilities, 100 percent of the market hogs for Hormel Foods are housed in group pens, and 100 percent of the turkeys raised by Jennie-O Turkey Store are housed in open barns. We constantly monitor scientific research to understand the best animal treatment practices. All company-owned hog farms will transition to group sow housing by 2018. As of October 2013, we have successfully converted 25 percent of company-owned sows to group sow housing.
Hormel Foods also extensively trains every person who handles animals to ensure they have the necessary knowledge and skills to properly care for our livestock. We expect training on animal husbandry practices to be the foundation of each production facility’s culture and reinforced daily in the behavior exhibited by all employees. We encourage employees at both company farms and independent family farms to hold each other accountable for proper animal care techniques.
At our processing plants, all personnel involved in receiving hogs and turkeys are routinely trained to guarantee proper and humane handling of all animals. On a regular basis we require these employees to review and agree to follow a personal pledge of conduct, which outlines principles for animal care and handling.
We conduct routine audits at our facilities by our trained, internal auditors and third-party auditors. Information collected from each audit is then used to continuously improve our animal handling procedures.
Documentation is an essential element of our training and auditing procedures. Within our records, we keep a copy of each audit report and a file for each employee that outlines his or her training and recertification qualifications.
To read more about the number of audits we conducted this year, visit the Animal Care section of the 2013 Hormel Foods Corporate Responsibility Report.
Animal Care Management
Our systematic approach to monitoring animal care was further enhanced in 2009 with the creation of the animal welfare and handling manager position, whose sole responsibility is to enforce our stringent standards for animal care of all domestic production sites. The manager holds weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings and conference calls to discuss relevant animal care topics.
Licensed veterinarians ensure that medications are used judiciously during the production process. This responsible use of medications by our producers and veterinarians demonstrates our understanding of the importance of public health, a safe food supply and the key role that animal well-being plays in it.
Licensed veterinarians prescribe only approved medications and dosage levels to properly treat, control and prevent illness in animals. All medications are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which evaluates any potential negative effects on human health and the environment and any impact on resistance. The FDA has the authority to ban any animal drug it feels poses a risk to human health. We also follow industry programs’ guidelines for the responsible use of medications such as antibiotics.
Hormel Foods endorses and complies with the National Pork Board’s Take Care – Use Antibiotics Responsibly platform and the American Veterinarian Medical Association’s “Principles of Judicious Therapeutic Use of Antimicrobials.” These written procedures are among the many safeguards in place to ensure antibiotics are used to keep animals healthy while ensuring the safety of human health.
In addition, Hormel Foods requires all of our producers to sign the company’s Quality Assurance Program Producer Certification document. This document certifies that all hog producers that supply hogs to Hormel Foods, and employees of these producers who work with hogs, are certified in Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus. PQA Plus focuses on 10 good production practices (GPPs), including the proper use of antibiotics. An additional six GPPs cover topics about other medications.
At company-owned hog and turkey operations, we have six veterinarians who are responsible for overseeing the direction and management of all livestock health assurance programs. We also have two flock health specialists with veterinary science degrees working in our turkey operations. At our hog operations, veterinarians are responsible for ensuring compliance with the guidelines provided by Take Care — Use Antibiotics Responsibly, and that all employees who work with animals are PQA Plus-certified.
We have increased monitoring for antibiotic residues at our production facilities as well. Beyond the random statistical sampling testing performed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we have initiated our own testing program using the Charm KIS rapid test. This is the same test used by USDA personnel to detect the presence of antimicrobial drugs. Since 2008, we have conducted random residue testing on more than 11,800 hogs. The test results confirm that our producers are using antibiotics responsibly and are following the GPPs identified in the PQA Plus program. With these steps, our customers are assured that the pork products produced from these animals meet the highest standards of food safety and quality.
Research/Innovation and Investment
At Hormel Foods facilities, we monitor scientific findings to continually evaluate, invest in and develop new ways to improve our hog and turkey handling processes. We operate a state-of-the-art hog holding facility at our Austin (Minn.) Plant, which was designed to maximize both the quality of our animal care and working conditions for our employees. We have also received a patent for our process related to improving turkey handling at Jennie-O Turkey Store.
Hormel Foods is known as a leader within the hog and turkey industries for developing and implementing best-practice animal care handling procedures. Our commitment to leadership is demonstrated by sharing our best practices and state-of-the-art facility designs with our peers and other industry stakeholders. To ensure we are using best industry practices, we consult with internal and external subject matter experts, such as veterinarians. We also participate in industry presentations and other collaborative experiences, and we offer in-person tours of our facilities to our peers and other industry stakeholders.
As an example, we participate in the Professional Animal Auditors Certification Organization (PAACO) by inviting trainers and trainees to see our hog facilities and turkey facilities first-hand as part of the real-world training component of its program. Seven members of the Jennie-O Turkey Store team and nine members of Hormel Foods team are PAACO-certified auditors. To help ensure new research within the turkey industry, Jennie-O Turkey Store provides support to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, the Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council and the National Turkey Federation.
Industry representation in national and local organizations helps Hormel Foods establish an open dialogue to share best practices within the food industry regarding animal care handling and humane processing. We are proud to have a representative serving as a member, an officer or a director of the board of a wide array of industry organizations, which include:
Hormel Foods sources hogs from more than 500 independent family farmers across the Midwest and four company-owned operations in Arizona, California, Colorado and Wyoming.
All designated market hogs are housed in a group pen setting from birth. The breeding sows at our company-owned farms in Arizona have transitioned to group sow housing. Company-owned farms in Colorado and Wyoming will be transitioned to group sow housing by 2018. As of 2013, we have successfully converted 25 percent to group sow housing. This will help us maintain consistent animal handling practices, employee training, personnel transfer and reporting processes.
We have also implemented quality management systems (QMS) at all company-owned hog production sites. On independent family farms that supply hogs to Hormel Foods, we require certification in the National Pork Board’s PQA Plus program.
Pork Procurement and Processing
Each year, our three Hormel Foods pork processing operations provide the company with raw materials by processing approximately 9.2 million hogs. These facilities are Farmer John (Vernon, Calif.), the Hormel Foods Fremont (Neb.) Plant and Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin, Minn., which is a third-party contractor. The raw materials are then distributed to locations throughout the United States where they are used to produce meat and food products.
Hormel Foods production plant locations span the United States and include: Stockton, Calif.; Tucker, Ga.; Algona, Knoxville and Osceola, Iowa; Aurora and Rochelle, Ill.; Wichita, Kan.; Austin, Browerville and Long Prairie, Minn.; Fremont, Neb.; and Beloit, Wis.
For the Hormel Foods Austin (Minn.) Plant and Fremont (Neb.) Plant, we purchase hogs from local independent Midwest producers. These hogs are purchased using a Hormel Foods lean pork value table. We pay a premium for properly sorted, consistent, lean hogs that meet the stringent requirements of Hormel Foods. This means that hogs purchased by Hormel Foods are healthy, top-quality animals that have been properly managed and treated well.
To uphold the requirements for animal care at Hormel Foods, we purchase the majority of our hogs via contractual agreements. Per the contract, each hog producer agrees to comply with local, state and federal laws and qualifications detailed in the Hormel Foods quality assurance program, which includes an animal care component. In addition to producers who supply hogs to Hormel Foods, we also require all employees who work with hogs at our company-owned hog operations to follow these guidelines. Our animal care practices include:
To read about this year’s audits that ensure our suppliers and our employees are practicing safe and ethical animal care, see the 2013 Corporate Responsibility Report.
Jennie-O Turkey Store, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods, is one of the world’s leading processors and marketers of turkey products. This vertically integrated enterprise consists of 16 breeder farms, three hatcheries, more than 100 commercial growing farms, eight feed mills and seven processing plants across Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Each year, we purchase more than 30 million bushels of corn from local growers and more than 336,000 tons of soybean meal from local processors to make more than 1.46 million tons of feed for nearly 40 million turkeys. Our presence has a significant impact on the local agricultural economy, and we are honored to support these local communities.
Our industry-leading animal care practices begin with our people. Prior to working with turkeys at our farm locations and processing facilities, new employees undergo a thorough training program to familiarize themselves with techniques related to their respective jobs. Our training for all employees is ongoing and includes monthly, quarterly and annual audits to evaluate best practice guidelines executed by employees. These audits gauge employee compliance with handling procedures and care guidelines for factors such as air and water quality and access to food.
The results of internal and third-party audits conducted at our hatcheries, grower farms and processing plants consistently score in the highest category, using the National Turkey Federation animal welfare guidelines and the Global Food Safety Initiative guidelines for food safety as the audit criteria. Additionally, in our processing facilities, we perform daily internal audits conducted by quality assurance and operations personnel to maintain the highest animal care practices.
In order to ensure the highest animal care standards are applied when handling all of our turkeys, we require a two-step process to certify all independent and contract suppliers of turkeys to Jennie-O Turkey Store. “Conditional certification” is obtained after the independent/contract producer completes company-provided training in animal handling. “Final certification” is obtained after personnel in the turkey procurement area complete an on-site inspection and an audit of the independent/contract producer’s operation. Recertification is required every three years.
Turkey Handling and Harvesting
Jennie-O Turkey Store has established clear, simple handling guidelines and closely monitors adherence to those guidelines to ensure standards are being upheld during every step of the raising, transportation and processing of turkeys. Our animal handling practices are consistent with policies set forth by the National Turkey Federation and the American Veterinary Medical Association, which include information about proper loading, unloading and processing techniques.
As industry leaders, we adhere to these guidelines in order to raise, transport and process our animals in a humane manner with minimal stress. We are proud of our history of establishing handling procedures that have been adopted by national trade organizations and pioneering the use of anesthetizing techniques for turkeys prior to processing.
Furthermore, the humane harvesting of animals is an ongoing topic of discussion within the meat industry, and we aim to have our processing methods remain best-in-class based on scientific findings. At Jennie-O Turkey Store, we use controlled atmosphere stunning and electrical stunning methods, both of which are accepted methods of humanely anesthetizing turkeys prior to processing. To date, scientific data has not shown a significant difference between the two methods; however, we continue to keep current with the latest scientific research to ensure we are using best practices for our animals.
Animal Welfare Review Board
Jennie-O Turkey Store formed the Animal Welfare Review Board in 2010 to raise the bar in setting the highest standards for responsible animal care. The board ensures accountability and ongoing leadership to uphold these standards. Its membership is comprised of key leaders (including several company vice presidents and directors) from various disciplines in the organization such as plant operations, live production, quality assurance, technical services and human resources. The board reviews reported incidences of misconduct within the animal care process, outlines the plan for corrective action and develops and implements preventative measures to ensure that Jennie-O Turkey Store maintains high standards for animal care.