North Carolina's largest integrator has formalized a means of dealing with live hog-hauling accidents to ensure animal well-being.

Murphy-Brown's Animal Welfare Management System is widely recognized as the most comprehensive animal welfare program in the pork industry, says Don Butler.

Now, Murphy-Brown, the production arm of Smithfield Foods based in Warsaw, NC, has developed an official live-haul accident reduction program to protect hogs in transit, he says.

Program Overhaul

Developing a formal program took place over the past two years, Butler says. Animal activist groups have been critical of the way live-haul accidents have been managed. Due to media coverage, including criticism from some activists, Murphy-Brown saw opportunities for improvement.

“As a part of our overall effort to ensure animal well-being, we have developed a formalized means of dealing with accidents involving the transportation of hogs to Smithfield processing plants on the East Coast,” says Butler, director of Governmental Relations and Public Affairs for Murphy-Brown.

The effort began with a complete and thorough review of the existing live-haul accident program by international expert Jennifer Woods of Alberta, Canada. Woods is a trained animal scientist who has spent her professional career responding to accidents involving animals, including swine.

Woods found Murphy-Brown was doing many things right — but there was room for improvement.

“I believe that Murphy-Brown, LLC has set the standard for the industry in live-haul emergency response. No other company in the world is as prepared to respond to motor vehicle accidents involving livestock as they are,” Woods says.

Accident Reduction

Butler says the first goal of a program is to eliminate trucking accidents as much as possible.

“We have placed speed-restriction devices on company-owned vehicles. We have worked on, and have changed, the suspension systems on many of our transport vehicles. And, we are moving from springs to air-ride systems,” Butler points out.

In addition, all drivers who haul animals for Murphy-Brown are required to be certified in the National Pork Board's Trucker Quality Assurance program. Additional safety training has also been provided to all live-haul drivers to prepare for the possibility of an accident.

“We have consolidated all the necessary tools and equipment for managing accident scenes and animals into self-contained trailer units known as Animal Rescue Units,” Butler explains. Several of these units are strategically located near Murphy-Brown production systems in the eastern states. Notably, these units contain special saws that can be used to cut through the sides of a truck to rescue animals following an accident.

“Not only is the staff and management more adequately prepared to respond to these incidents, but Murphy-Brown has gone a step further by incorporating an accident-prevention program into their driver training and safety program,” adds Woods. “This training module will not only be part of the education program of their in-house drivers, but also their lease operators. All companies should make accident prevention and response part of their animal welfare management program.”

Since the production centers in Murphy-Brown's western operations are located in several different states, sometimes hundreds of miles apart, the response to live-haul accidents may be different than those in the east, Butler explains. Those efforts are currently being reviewed to maximize their effectiveness.

Accident Response, Review

Each accident presents unique challenges. Doing its best to anticipate the unexpected, Murphy-Brown has committed resources to ensuring the safety of its employees and the public, minimizing stress to animals and ensuring their well-being. When necessary, euthanasia is carried out, using methods endorsed by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

As an extension of its training regimen, Murphy-Brown has committed to fully cooperate with and provide cross training for local law enforcement and other non-company first responders. The main objective is to make sure all first responders understand everyone else's roles and responsibilities, Butler says.

Murphy-Brown also works to cooperate with local law enforcement personnel in cleaning up the accident scene and repairing any damage done to private property as a result of an accident.

In addition, Murphy-Brown conducts a thorough, post-accident review of its response efforts to evaluate the timeliness, effectiveness and management of their response.

“We examine our methods of handling of injured and uninjured animals, as well as other issues unique to that accident,” he says.

Butler reinforces it's important to raise industry awareness about this aspect of animal well-being. “If your response to an accident is to just do the best that you can when an accident happens, that is probably not good enough. We need to be thinking about what we need to do before an accident happens,” he emphasizes.

“We may never reach our goal of zero accidents. But we can be well prepared if and when they do happen,” he concludes.