Maintain Leadership Position in Research and Innovation
To ensure that Tyson Foods makes best use of the resources afforded to us to drive continuous improvement in animal welfare outcomes through research and innovation, we have core tenets that we follow when identifying research projects for ourselves, in collaboration with others or that we fund externally. For a project to be considered, it must be based in science, leveraged with technology, driven by innovation, focused on welfare outcomes, modeled using animal preference, and deliver continuous improvement.
We seek to continuously improve animal welfare throughout our supply chain and expect the same of our independent and contract farmers and supply chain partners. Our research focuses on measuring and improving welfare outcomes, such as mobility in cattle or paw scores in broilers. We use KWIs to measure improvement, and transparently report our progress as well as challenges and opportunities. This research is holistic in nature, evaluating the impact of practices on welfare, environmental indicators and economics.
Focusing on animal welfare outcomes over resource-based inputs is important because inputs tell us only about prescriptive requirements present in an animal’s environment, such as stocking density or the breed of animal. Resource-based inputs do not tell us anything about the quality of the animal’s life or the impact of those requirements on the animal’s outcomes. Outcomes are measurable indicators that reflect the true impact of the environment or management practices on the animal’s welfare. Favorable welfare outcomes can be produced with many different types of inputs, but specific inputs do not guarantee favorable welfare outcomes. Outcomes can be measured and tracked and we, therefore, set targets for continuous improvement. As Dr. Temple Grandin often says, “What gets measured, gets managed."
To this end, we partner with a variety of professionals, academic institutions and industry groups to advance animal agricultural research and best practices for animal welfare throughout the industry. We also invest in welfare research conducted at Tyson Foods or in collaboration with universities, agricultural organizations or companies. In addition to the external research that we support, we constantly seek out and pilot the latest innovations in animal welfare best practices within our own operations. Current institutions with which we have collaborative research relationships include University of Oxford, Purdue University, University of Tennessee, Kansas State University, Colorado State University and University of Arkansas.
Measuring animal preference and the resulting animal welfare outcomes is central to our approach to animal welfare research. We use animal preference as part of our research strategy to better understand what animals want and need. The animals’ voices in the decisions we make help us understand how to improve their welfare. As Marian Dawkins explained in her paper, “Through Animal Eyes: What behaviur tells us.” (2006), “We now have a wide range of methods for “asking” animals what they want, and we should have the humility to use this evidence and ask the animals rather than automatically assuming that we know from our human standpoint.” This approach is directly tied to the Five Domains and optimizing positive welfare outcomes for the animals entrusted to our care.
Tyson Foods also advances animal welfare education beyond our community of team members. We provide access to our facilities and expertise in animal welfare auditing, in cooperation with our supply chain, customers, academics and audit firms. This enables external stakeholders and individuals to gain professional animal auditor certification through PAACO. We open our doors to undergraduate and graduate students in animal science for educational opportunities, providing a place to evaluate welfare practices. Our facilities also serve as locations for various supply chain and customer educational events focused on animal welfare policies and practices.
Within an 80-acre tract sits our Broiler Welfare Research Farm, which is a testing ground for research on key aspects of broiler chicken welfare, such as lighting, environmental enrichments and stocking density. This research is based on an approach that allows animal preference to guide our actions. Because chickens can’t tell us what types of housing they prefer, we create a variety of options within one environment and then observe animals’ behavior. We use a science-based approach to evaluate the impact of the different choices on measurable outcomes of animal welfare and health.
Tyson Foods conducts ongoing research on the optimum lighting conditions for chickens’ welfare. Findings suggest birds are best able to display their natural behaviors in housing with a gradient of lighting from bright to subdued, so they can feed in the bright area and rest where there’s less light. We can determine where birds are most content by measuring the levels of indicators responsible for producing dopamine and serotonin in the brain, as they are considered indicators of positive welfare. Broilers given a choice of lighting environments not only display better welfare, but they also have an improved feed conversion ratio, which means this type of lighting could reduce the greenhouse gas impact by reducing grain consumption.