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Dairy Focus: Coalition Launches Dairy Animal Well-being Effort

J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension Service dairy specialist
A new initiative is aimed at protecting consumer trust in the dairy industry’s commitment to caring for its animals.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

A producer-led coalition representing every facet of the dairy industry announced this week the creation of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative.

It’s an effort to protect consumer trust and confidence in the dairy industry’s commitment to animal well-being. The coalition introduced the first draft of proposed principles and guidelines at the World Dairy Expo. The principles and guidelines are intended to provide a uniform umbrella of assurance that the industry is meeting its ethical obligation for dairy animal well-being.

These producers have to follow the guidelines, which include an on-farm inspection, as do producers of other species with “voluntary” initiatives in practice to sell their product to the largest and most influential restaurant chains.

No stranger to inspection, I am certain there will be some “hand wringing” at the outset, but keep in mind this is just an extension of a process that dairy farmers have been complying with for many years.

One of the principles is third-party oversight, which will verify the credibility of on-farm well-being programs. Cooperatives, processors or independent companies may incorporate different methods of oversight to verify that the principles and guidelines are being followed on individual operations.

Here are some likely questions:

Q: Why is this important?

A: Animal well-being is increasingly important to our customers and other dairy industry stakeholders who grant us the social license we need to operate. We want to maintain a high level of consumer trust and confidence in dairy producers.

Q: Is this a government program? Is a federal agency going to audit my operation?

A: This is not a government program. The National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative was created by a group of concerned industry stakeholders who know producers are committed to doing what’s right and want to help the industry successfully manage this challenging issue. The program will not require government audits of your on-farm animal well-being practices. The National Dairy Animal Well-Being principles and guidelines do include third-party oversight to assure credibility. Individual well-being programs may incorporate different methods of third-party oversight consistent with the principles and guidelines.

Q: Isn’t this just giving in to animal activists?

A: No. The creation of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative demonstrates the dairy industry’s awareness of the need to communicate our commitment to animal well-being to our customers and consumers. Dairy producers have a long tradition of providing good care for their animals. This is intended to control our own destiny by creating a program that proves our commitment and allows us to honestly and accurately portray what happens on the farm.

Q: How is the initiative funded?

A: To date, volunteers have done much of the initiative’s work. The people who have attended the coalition meetings all have done so at their own cost. The Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin provided initial funding to get the initiative off the ground. Other industry stakeholders are providing funding to help launch the initiative publicly.

Q: Who is on the coalition doing this work?

A: The coalition is a broad-based group of volunteers from across the country representing every facet of the dairy industry. It includes producers, processors, co-ops, allied industry, academics, associations and others. More than 60 people have been involved in the work of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative since late 2005. The coalition is not part of any specific association or organization, but a group that reflects the diversity and strength of the U.S. dairy industry.

In addition to individual dairy producers, other industry leaders participating in the coalition or contributing in some way include Alto Dairy, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Farm Bureau Federation, Animart, American Foods Group, Cornell University, Dairy Farmers of America, Dairy Management Inc., Elanco Animal Health, Foremost Farms USA, Grande Cheese Co., International Dairy Foods Association, Land O’ Lakes, Milk and Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Center Inc., Morgan and Myers, National Milk Producers Federation, Northeast Dairy Producers Association, Organic Valley, Pfizer Animal Health, Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization, Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Rabobank, Rosenholm Wolfe Dairy LLP, Safeway Inc., Smithfield Beef Group, United Dairymen of Arizona, University of Arizona, University of California-Davis, Validus, Washington Dairy Products Commission, Washington State Dairy Federation, WestfaliaSurge Inc., Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Wisconsin Pork Producers Association.

Throughout the next nine months, dairy producers will have an opportunity to review the draft principles and guidelines and provide input through their co-op or industry association. The coalition will incorporate industry feedback into the final principles and guidelines. More information is available at

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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