Better Choices Program: Revolutionizing Animal Welfare Accreditation in Livestock Production

Adapted from MLA’s Australian Beef Sustainability Framework article

A movement aimed at accrediting livestock producers for exemplary animal welfare practices is gaining traction, highlighted by a leading Australian beef enterprise embracing it and even spearheading the development of an app for augmented training and outreach.

Rooted in a 2008 initiative aimed at educating sheep producers on the imperative need for pain relief during mulesing, Better Choices has evolved to encompass all aspects of livestock management and procedures.

Dr. Michael Patching, serving as both an ambassador and a passionate advocate for animal welfare, emphasized that Better Choices diverges from conventional accreditation schemes by eschewing minimum standards in favor of fostering continual improvement and behavioral change.

Rather than imposing rigid benchmarks, Better Choices serves as an extension program, encouraging stakeholders at every stage of their animal welfare journey to participate in a quest for ongoing enhancement and ethical conduct.

“This means that all stakeholders, regardless of their stage in the animal welfare journey, are encouraged to join – for free,” Dr. Patching highlighted.

“We want to simply provide education on pain mitigation, so that producers can be self-certified and not audited with minimum standards.”

Argyle Foods asserts that the program is uniquely suited for Australia. In the following months, the Argyle Foods Group, a vertically integrated, grass-fed red meat business handling around 30,000 cattle annually from 40 properties and suppliers across the eastern states and the Northern Territory, will introduce the Better Choices program throughout its supply chain.

According to General Manager Naomi Leahy, the program presents an alternative to existing animal welfare accreditations. Being grounded in Australia, it is custom-made to accommodate the diverse range of production systems found in the country. This inclusivity allows both northern and southern systems to showcase their dedication to animal welfare.

“For us, Better Choices is another tool to demonstrate to our export customers that Argyle Foods is committed to pain management and the welfare of our animals,” Ms. Leahy emphasized.

“We’re already doing a lot of what the program focuses on, but it gives us a way to explain that.

“We’re not shying away from highlighting that within livestock production practices, pain management needs to be considered. We think it’s key to be up front with that and to demonstrate how well we’re managing our livestock.”

Better Choices is in harmony with ABSF messaging. Dr. Patching noted that as the beef industry strives for 100% adoption of pain relief for routine and invasive procedures by 2030, Better Choices resonates with the objectives and principles of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework.

“The ABSF specifically seeks ‘progress before perfection’, and Better Choices is not prescriptive about the type of pain mitigation used,” he said.

“It strives to support every farmer to take the first step in recognising that livestock experience pain and it is our responsibility to find ways to mitigate that. Then we can evolve that to make sure we are using the right product at the right time in the right way.

“The beef industry has been generally supportive, but there are still challenges in how to have the greatest impact and how to remain viable. Better Choices aims to align with current extension programs to provide education on pain mitigation and the options available.”

Development of an app to facilitate education is underway. The app aims to equip Better Choices members with training videos covering animal welfare, proper procedure execution, troubleshooting, and advancements in the field. Additionally, it will enable the creation of compliance and competence records.

Naomi Leahy of Argyle Food Group views this development with enthusiasm.

“Acknowledging that there are practices that animals need to go through, that have net benefit to their welfare, but having the training behind them so that people know how to do it well is key to making sure that the principles of animal welfare are upheld,” she said.

“When we explain it to our suppliers, they realise they’re already doing it. It takes 10 minutes to sign up to Better Choices and there hasn’t been any pushback from them.

“When we asked some of our US customers what they actually cared about, they said ‘We want an assurance that the animals that we’re buying are cared for’. And when we say we’ve got this program, they say that’s fine.”

Fostering a community of advocates for beef sustainability is the current priority. Dr. Patching outlined plans to bolster membership, cultivate influencer networks within industry circles and commercial entities, and tap into the expertise within university knowledge bases over the next year.

Moreover, Better Choices is set to play a significant role as a sponsor of Beef 2024 in Rockhampton from May 5-11.

“We’ve been able to support the claims that Argyle Food Group have been making in terms of their sustainability,” he said.

“We’re also starting work with Australian Organic Ltd to find ways to commercialise, register, or get approval for specific local pain relief products that can meet organic certification in Australia and the US.

“Animal welfare is a challenging space in the livestock sector. For many years the loudest voice has come from groups that ultimately desire to see the end of farmed animals.

“The Better Choices Program is aligned with industry priorities and its goal is to assist producers to support the wellbeing of livestock that will continue to be farmed.”

For further details and to enroll in the Better Choices Program, visit or meet with the team at Beef 24 in Rockhampton, taking place from May 5th to 11th.

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