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8 Facts about Animal Welfare Officers

It is well know that animals which are treated well are safer sources of food. Not only that, these animal are treated with respect and allows you to eat more ethically.

Fortunately, the demand for animal welfare is increasing as consumers are encouraging producers to raise animals better.

However, what does a well cared for animal look like?

The general agreement is that animal care should follow the Five Freedoms under human control.

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

But how do we know as consumers that the animals we consume are actually being treated under these freedoms? Well we look to professionals who make it their jobs to ensure animal welfare.

These professionals are known as Animal Welfare Officers. 

This week FoodGrads is taking a look at this compassionate job and how they use measurable conditions to ensure that animals are taken well care of during their lives.

1. Animal welfare technicians ensure animal welfare

Animal welfare technicians ensure that animals are well-treated from the farm to time of slaughter. Depending on the industry, this can go as far back as the hatcheries for poultry. They perform audits of live animals that inspect a variety of conditions, including illness and injury, and whether the environment the animals live in is up to code. During these audits, animal welfare technicians visit farms and conduct food safety and regulatory compliance inspections.

Animal welfare checks are also performed by internal technicians at the time of slaughter. Internal audits are carried out by the company they work for. These inspections include overseeing slaughter operations, ensuring animals are handled humanely, and conducting post-mortem inspections of carcasses.

During both farm and company inspections, Animal welfare technicians interview and assess compliance of operators’ written programs and records. If they notice any non-compliances, they ensure that the problems are corrected. Finally, using all the information they have collected, they generate reports which are used to guide improvements either on the farm or at the slaughterhouse.

2. Animal welfare technicians do not require specific degrees

Animal welfare technicians have a wide range of educational backgrounds and the requirements of the position are dependent on the goals of the company they work for. Some Animal welfare technicians have degrees in Animal Science, Veterinary Science, Microbiology, Quality Assurance, or even Food Science.

For example, there are some animal welfare technicians that do not have a specific degree in animal health or behaviour.  There are some technicians with degrees in biological or related sciences. In this profession, what is more important is having experience related to animals. Therefore, some companies only require you to have a high school education with related experience.

Experience in the food industry or agriculture, preferably in animal or meat production is important for this job. Companies want to know that you have experience working with animals. This experience sets the foundation for developing animal welfare principles, theories, and practices.

3. Animal welfare technicians work internally or externally

Animal welfare technicians focus on one of two areas in the food supply chain – external or internal.  The external chain includes the farm and the transportation of animals to the processing plant. The internal chain is what takes place inside the processing plant from delivery to slaughter.

External welfare technicians are focused on assessing the quality of life of an animal on the farm and during transportation. When performing inspections, they look at:

  • How farmers treat their animals
  • How much living space is available to the animals
  • The quality of the building air and the accessibility of portable water
  • If the animals are healthy and medication usage is monitored
  • If they are being transported in a way that is conductive to their comfort and safety

These are just a few things that an external animal welfare technician investigates.

In contrast, internal welfare technicians conduct inspections after the animal enters the processing facility. When performing inspections, among the many conditions they assess, they examine:

  • Animal holding conditions prior to slaughter
  • How the animals are handled before stunning
  • Assessing insensibility before slaughter to ensure the animal is properly stunned and insensible to pain

4. Animal welfare technicians travel from farm to farm

An external animal welfare technician must be prepared to travel. Depending on the size of their designated region, animal welfare technicians may drive outwards of three hours. Typically, these technicians travel for around three days a week, with other days taking place at the office.

5. Animal welfare technicians write up reports

Another key component of an animal welfare officer’s job is writing countless reports based on their findings. On the farm and in the plant, they write reports on important observations during audits.

For example, if a non-conformance was identified during a farm visit, an animal welfare officer documents it in their report. They must keep in mind the way they write up the non-conformance because it must be stated clearly enough for farmers to easily understand and implement corrective actions. Therefore, these professionals need to have good written communication skills to accurately document information and prepare reports.

6.  Animal welfare technicians check test results

In addition to writing reports, animal welfare technicians also go through the reports of farms and hatcheries to verify that they follow regulations, such as whether or not water systems are up to standards. Additionally, an inspector may check animals which may have been treated with a medication or exposed to a chemical residue.

7.  Animal welfare technicians love animals

Compassion and love for animals are what drives Animal welfare technicians to do their job. They only want the best for the animals that go through slaughter. Their love is shown through their integrity, as their actions must be consistent with organizational values, policies and codes of conduct. Animal welfare technicians do not overlook anything which could affect the welfare of an animal.

8. Animal welfare technicians must communicate, have an eye for detail and gathering information

Being an Animal Welfare Technician requires a range of skills. However, there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:

  • Communication – This job is all about meeting new people. Animal welfare officers are comfortable with being in new situations and communicating with new groups of people. They communicate clearly to a range of people from farmers to upper management.
  • Eye for detail – Audits are limited in their time. Sometimes they need to be in and out within a few hours. Animal welfare officers need to have a keen sense of observation. This means seeing things that might not be obvious to others. Small things can be clues to much bigger problems.
  • Information gathering – Animal welfare officers spend a lot of their time writing reports both digitally and by hand. To write these reports they need to gather information from the farm and the production facility. These reports must have a lot of information, but all be written concisely so they can easily be understood by everyone.

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