Management Commitment and Policy
Keystone Foods has a moral and ethical responsibility to our animals, customers, the consumers of our products, and our employees to treat those animals in our care humanely and with respect. As an industry leader, the overall objective of Keystone Foods is to ensure that high standards of animal health and welfare are implemented, maintained and verified across our supply chain. Click here to read Keystone Foods’ complete Animal Welfare Statement.
Position on the avoidance of close confinement and intensive systems for livestock:
All of the broilers under Keystone’s care are raised in environmentally-controlled houses where the birds are free to move about the entire floor space of the house and have free access to feed and water. In our system, the birds are kept indoors to limit exposure to predators, environmental stressors and biosecurity risks. We feel the benefits of keeping the birds indoors and eliminating access to the outdoors far outweigh the potential risks. We would not consider these to be close confinement systems.
Comments on stocking density: Maximum stocking density (square feet per bird at day of placement) and finishing density (pounds per square foot at processing age) are conventional measurements that are commonly used as input or resource-based welfare indicators in commercial broiler production. These indicators, along with others such as feeder and drinker space, litter condition, and house ventilation capacity, have been developed and modified based on geographic and seasonal conditions to address potential welfare issues that may occur from overcrowding. Negative outcomes associated with high finishing density include poor foot pad dermatitis and gait scores, poor litter and air quality, higher than standard morbidity and mortality rates, and non-uniform flock appearance.
In programs that target lighter bird weights, stocking density is more critical than finishing density due to the fact that more birds are placed in a standard house because they require less finishing space per bird, i.e., they are processed at a younger age. Conventional standards suggest stocking density be determined by the area provided for each bird (ft2/bird). Practically, however, from a health and welfare perspective, access to feed (linear inches per bird) and water (birds per nipple drinker) are the critical factors, rather than stocking density, which should govern placement numbers, especially given the fact that most broilers are half-house brooded.
In programs that target heavier bird weights, finishing density is more critical than stocking density as the ability to exchange air and remove heat becomes the limiting factor as the birds get older. Conventional ventilation systems can only support a fixed amount of live weight (expressed as the number of BTUs the maximum total live weight will produce in the house). This becomes the determining factor in stocking density, primarily driven by the ventilation system design and capacity (number of fans, fan capacity, amount of inlet/tunnel opening, air speed and house tightness). Consequently, feed and water space is not typically an issue in heavier bird programs.
Position on the avoidance of products from farm animals subject to genetic engineering or cloning:
Keystone Foods does not use any animals that have been genetically engineered or cloned.
Position on Responsible Antibiotic Use:
Keystone Foods subscribes to and practices the judicious use of antibiotics. The practices that guide decisions regarding antibiotic use, administration and management are described in Keystone Foods Responsible Antibiotic Use Policy. These policies are consistent with those published by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Position on the avoidance of routine mutilations:
Broilers within Keystone Foods system do not receive any services that would be considered “mutilations” and, therefore, 100% of our broilers are free from procedures that alter their physical appearance.
Position on avoidance of meat from animals that have not been subjected to pre-slaughter stunning:
100% of our animals are subjected to pre-slaughter stunning. We verify this through 1st, 2nd and 3rd party audits and if opportunities are identified, corrective actions are implemented.
Position on the avoidance of long distance live transportation:
Under normal processing conditions, the time from catch to stunning, the time from the first bird caught in a house until the last bird from the same house is stunned, should not exceed 12 hours and averages < 2 hours. There may be unique circumstances when this time is extended beyond 12 hours. In these cases, specific causes should be documented.
Governance and Management
Governance and management of Keystone Foods animal health and welfare program is defined within its Keystone Foods Animal Welfare Organizational Structure.
Keystone has specific objectives and targets for management of farm animal welfare. Job specific training and testing is a key component of Keystone’s Foods Animal Health and Welfare Program. Each individual is trained and tested on job-specific animal welfare concepts and practice prior to handling any animal. Every current employee and contractor receives training twice per year. Training and testing is documented and the expectation is that 100% of the employees and contractors meet this expectation.
We believe that assessment of an animal’s welfare should be based on outcome-based measurements, whenever possible, as this is the truest reflection of how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. Consideration must also be given to resource-based measurements and system design (feeder space, drinker space, litter type and depth, stocking density) when evaluating animal welfare condition with the understanding that similar outcomes may be achieved with different resources or system designs. Accordingly, as Keystone Foods’ Animal Health and Welfare Program and audits have developed and matured. We have incorporated outcome-based assessments into the program and, where appropriate, replaced resource-based assessments.
One of the foundational components of Keystone Foods Animal Health and Welfare Program is continuous improvement. As such, key welfare indicators are routinely monitored and performance relative to goals are reviewed. If opportunities exist relative to meeting established goals, reviews are undertaken to evaluate the process and develop improvements. When performance consistently outperforms established targets or higher standards are more broadly introduced, we raise or incorporate the newer standards into our program.
Internal process for ensuring that its farm animal welfare policy is effectively implemented:
Verification is a critical part of any comprehensive program as it shows that the executed program is compliant with the expectation established in the written program. Keystone’s Animal Health and Welfare Program is audited at three levels:
- First-party audits – Keystone Foods’ employees monitoring our own system. These audits occur throughout our internal supply chain (farms, hatchery, processing plant) and may occur as frequently as hourly (stunner checks, wing damage checks, etc.), to weekly (farm and processing plant checks), to monthly (processing plant checks).
- Second-party audits – From time-to-time Keystone Foods will retain a Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization-certified veterinarian to conduct a comprehensive audit of our internal live supply chain. As Keystone pays the fees associated with these audits and the results come directly back to Keystone, these are considered second-party audits. Each integrated complex will have 2-3 second-party audits each year.
- Third-party audits - Some of Keystone Foods’ customers require annual third-party audits. These auditors are also comprehensive in scope and results are reported directly back to the customer.
Implementation of Keystone Foods’ Animal Health and Welfare Program through its supply chain:
Keystone Foods’ Animal Health and Welfare Program has key foundational components that have been used to build a comprehensive program as well as a welfare culture that is evident throughout our organization. The foundational building blocks are represented below.
Scope: To ensure the most comprehensive program, Keystone first identified anywhere in our process, from primary breeder supplier through the final step at the processing plant, where there was an interface between animal and human or machine; in other words, anywhere where there was the possibility of an opportunity to not fulfill the Five Freedoms. This was an iterative process involving employees throughout our entire internal supply chain as well as suppliers and contractors.
Training: Once each critical step was identified, job-specific training was developed so that expectations were created around job performance and outcome-based results so that no employee or contractor would have a question about the task-related results relative to animal welfare. Key elements of the Program and of each task were incorporated into job-specific testing which each employee and contractor is trained and tested on every 6 months.
Accountability: The comprehensive Program described above and semi-annual training and testing create an expectation of individual accountability. If the Program covers any potential situation and the training and testing are sufficient, there should not be any reason the program is not followed as it is written. 100/0 was introduced during the annual animal welfare training in 2016. The basic concept of 100/0 is that every individual is 100% accountable or responsible for their actions and there are 0 excuses if things should not go as planned. It may not mean that there are no opportunities but it does mean that individuals take responsibility to correct the opportunities when they arise.
Responsibility: Continuing to focus on building a culture around animal welfare, Keystone Foods incorporated See it? Stop it! in 2013. The See it? Stop it! program builds on the 100/0 concept of individual accountability but takes it a step further to encompass not only the individual’s own actions but also holds each individual accountable for ensuring that the system and its participants are compliant with the Program. See it? Stop it! simply states that if an individual sees something that is not compliant with the Program, it is their responsibility to address it, report it or elevate it. A toll-free number is provided should an individual feel uncomfortable about raising this issue directly to management
Continuous Improvement: Keystone Foods continues to strive to improve the health and welfare of the animals in our care. Continuous improvement remains at the top of our foundational pyramid. Core to the principle of continuous improvement is measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) and raising standards as improvements are achieved and maintained. Keystone Foods has also worked with vendors and university researchers to improve on existing equipment design or evaluate new technology as it becomes available.
The foundation of our continuous improvement effort is based in the ASABE (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) standard entitled Framework to Evaluate the Sustainability of Agricultural Production Systems (S629). Within this Sustainability Framework are three actions that have been adapted for continuous improvement in health and welfare.
- Define – identify welfare-related goals for the enterprise; identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure progress towards those goals; select the metrics that can be measured to represent the KPIs. KPIs are outcome-based, science-driven, technology neutral and transparent.
- Plan - benchmark KPI metrics to provide a comparison point, setting goals for each KPI over some time frame, and developing strategies to meet those goals.
- Implement - implement strategy, measure performance and report results over and continue to adapt the strategy to improve outcomes.
Keystone Foods’ investment in projects dedicated to advancing farm animal welfare practices:
As part of Keystone Foods’ continuous improvement efforts, we partner with research institutions and suppliers to evaluate and implement new concepts or technologies that improve welfare. These projects are presented at scientific meetings where other industry participants may learn about and potentially adopt these projects. An example of recent a project can be found here.
Keystone Foods also recently received recognition for one of its animal welfare initiatives. In 2017 Keystone Foods – Georgia was awarded a Sustainability Excellence in Manufacturing Award by the OpX Leadership Network for a project entitled Solving First Week Mortality Increase after Going Antibiotic Free.
Project Summary: In an ongoing effort to reduce the use of antibiotics in Keystone Foods supply chain, Keystone Foods - Georgia began hatching chicks without antibiotic administration. This change in our process negatively affected first-week mortality rates. This led to increased cost, reduced income, and concerns over animal welfare. The facility began immediately evaluating ways to reverse the trend, including improvements to incubation time, egg moisture loss, ventilation, and egg pack. The hatcheries also visited broiler farms to identify any management issues of concern. The biggest breakthrough was made when visiting two other hatcheries owned by competitors that shared their advances in chick quality, made through the application of a dilute hydrogen peroxide mist during incubation and hatch. Once implemented at Keystone - Georgia there was an immediate improvement. The seven-day mortality rate when antibiotics were initially phased out was 1.84%. Keystone – Georgia seven-day mortality has averaged around 0.90% for the last six months. This program was shared with Keystone Foods other hatcheries who experienced similar results.
As Keystone Foods operates in a business to business environment, educational efforts are directed to our direct customers. We have presented on multiple topics including antibiotic use, emerging animal welfare issues and animal health and welfare research.