Grandin: Beef industry needs transparency in processing
Everyone in the room watched in amazement as the cattle calmly and slowly moved out of the cattle pot, down the chute and into a holding pen at one of the large processing plants. Once they reached the holding pen, they rested for several hours and got a drink. Some workers calmly sorted a small group from the pen, moved them down an alley and toward the plant where the video depicted the rest of the process showing how cattle are slaughtered.
After showing the video, Temple Grandin explained why this video she has made with the American Meat Institute is important for the public to see.
“It presents an honest portrayal of how cattle are handled in meat processing plants in the United States,” she said.
Grandin spoke of Animal Well-Being during her presentation at the “Beef + Transparency = Trust” conference in Denver earlier this month.
“We believe it is our ethical obligation to honor and respect livestock by handling them in the most humane way possible,” she said. “I have spent 35 years of my career improving slaughter plants. During this time, I have taken a lot of people on tours of the packing plants, and the consensus is usually ‘it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be,’” she said. “I think, in agriculture, we have to show everything we do.”
Grandin has found that tours of the processing facilities need to be handled a certain way. By that, she means starting at the beginning, when the cattle are unloading from the truck and leading up to what happens once the cattle are stunned and bled out.
“I don’t surprise them,” she explained. “I have found it is important to explain stuff ahead of time. I tell them that once we walk in there, they will see kicking, and there will be blood.”
Animal welfare concerns
In the meat industry, Grandin said processors are becoming more concerned about how animals are handled, and Grandin has become one of their biggest advocates. Her goal is to show the public how things are done right.
Some of the biggest processors in the United States now have non-slip floors for the cattle to walk on to keep them from falling. Holding pens are filled no more than 75 percent full to allow the cattle room to move around, get a drink and rest for several hours before processing. Workers are closely monitored to ensure they handle the cattle safely and correctly. The alleys have solid sides to keep the cattle from becoming distracted.
“Animals see in pictures, so if there is a hose on the ground or a coat on the fence, they may become distracted,” Grandin explained.
Cattle also like to move toward light, so once they enter the plant many companies have lights installed to draw the cattle into the plant.
“Humane treatment of animals is required by the Humane Slaughter Act,” Grandin said.
Taking it one step further, many processing facilities also conduct audits to ensure safe and correct handling practices. The audit looks at effective stunning practices, cattle vocalization, the amount of slips and falls and the amount of use of a cattle prod. The audit is also in place to make sure equipment is not overloaded or understaffed, she added.
“Management is an important part of this process,” commented Grandin.
Participating in video auditing
To help processing plants stay on the right path, they can also choose to be part of a video auditing system, where cameras in the packing plants transmit video to a central location where auditors can watch different processes in the packing plant to make sure its being done correctly. Although there is no law mandating cooperation in this process, Grandin said customers like McDonalds and Wendy’s are leading the way by requiring it of their suppliers. These audits have had positive outcomes, Grandin continued.
“It has eliminated broken equipment, like stunners, and some workers have had to be fired because they just shouldn’t be working with livestock,” she explained.
“The best way to make changes in the system is by working with the buyers of these products,” Grandin explained. “Customers are where we can make change, but the changes we make need to be sensible.”
Industry transparency and pride
Grandin said every step in the processing plant needs to be conducted in a way the public can view and understand, because everything is on video now.
“I think we need to show everything in the public eye. Agriculture has been terrible about getting out of the box and showing what they do. If it isn’t suitable for video, then maybe the practice needs to be changed,” she said.
From the tours, Grandin said the public is interested in how cattle are handled at the packing plant. They want to know if the cattle know they are going to die, how they are handled at the processing plant and if the processing facility is clean. They want to see the stunning process, watch them kick, understand why they do that and learn how cattle are graded.
Consumers are concerned about food safety and plant cleaning, she added.
Grandin added, “I’m proud of what I’ve done the last 35 years, but it took the Central Valley Meats issue to get this video out there. I think our next step is to make a video showing how the plant is cleaned every night to the point that you could eat off the floor. People don’t realize that.”
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.