Temple Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and also designs livestock facilities. Facilities that she’s designed are located worldwide. The systems she creates help decrease animal stress and her writings on the topic are a valuable resource used by many. Her books include Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human, which were both on the New York Times best seller list. She created an objective scoring system for animal treatment in slaughterhouses. Many companies are implementing this system to improve animal welfare.
Animal treatment and humane slaughter are parts of the complicated puzzle of sustainable and local food. Temple Grandin explains the benefits of focussing on one aspect at a time in order to make a difference. She describes her experiences with slaughterhouses, including the accomplishments that have been made and the difficulties that remain to be overcome.
Douglas Gayeton: Can we create a locally based food system in terms of how we produce meat?
Temple Grandin: You start things one small project at a time and then that model spreads to other places. There are things that big ag can learn from little ag. And the best way to promote what you want to promote is just to start local things one small project at a time and make them work.
You need to bite off a chunk that you can get your head around. Pick out one thing to work on that’s something you can actually get done. I can get my head around fixing slaughter plants, rather than just talking overall about cheap food.
Douglas Gayeton: What do you suggest in the case of animal welfare?
Temple Grandin: The first thing you have to do is stop people from beating up pigs with gate rods and beating animals up. Stop the rough handling. We found when we started the McDonald’s audit that the first thing we had to do was to get people under control and repair equipment. A lot of the problems were simply due to lack of repairs of the stunning equipment. It was just simple stuff that was causing a lot of problems like unsupervised employees doing bad things. We learned that there are certain people that shouldn’t be handling animals and they had to be removed.
The same thing was on farms, too. Employee training and management is the first thing you have to do. Out of 75 McDonald’s suppliers, only 3 plants had to build really expensive stuff. The rest of them we fixed with training, supervision and simple fixes like non-slip flooring or putting a light on a chute so that animals would walk into the chute easier because they’re scared of the dark. You start with the simple things. Then you have to start thinking about some of the deep, big problems.
Douglas Gayeton: What are the greatest challenges that people face when they want to become certified for humane treatment of animals?
Temple Grandin: One big problem is that we have a real shortage of local slaughter facilities, that’s a bad problem, and a lot of that has to do with inspection issues.
One of the things that’s a concern is centralizing agricultures because you get economies of scale. When the pig industry consolidated it put a lot of farmers out of business, and there was one major cost they could reduce. By having this huge centralized feed mill, your feed costs are reduced 30%. How does a small farmer compete against that? It’s the same thing with slaughter plants. Let’s say I have a plant that does 5,000 cattle a day or I have a plant that does maybe 1,000 cattle a day. The cost doesn’t go up in a straight line.
Douglas Gayeton: Do you see mobile slaughterhouses having a future?
Temple Grandin: I think a chicken mobile slaughterhouse that goes around is a lot easier, but I think for beef mobile slaughterhouses what would be more viable would be what I call docking stations. It would come to the fairgrounds the first week of the month and the next week it would go to the local auction barn. Then you’ve got electric hookups, water hookups, a way to get rid of the sewage. It would park around in different places.
But one of the big issues is inspection. The meat has to be inspected. If you want to do something to get laws past, you need to do something to solve the inspection issue, because that’s a federal meat inspection. And the big problem right now is the government is cutting all the funding for everything.
Douglas Gayeton: How do you base your work on your values and how can we allow consumers to shop for food with the same values that you apply?
Temple Grandin: I have really strong values. Animals have to have an acceptable level of welfare. First of all, you have to make sure the stunner works so that he’s made unconscious when he’s shot and you’re not poking him with electric prods and making him suffer.
I can make a large slaughter plant work in terms of animal welfare. If I can make small plants work, I can make big plants work, as long as they’re set up, designed, and managed right.
One of the things I’ve been saying to all kinds of ag, is that we need to just open the door electronically. I have videos “Beef Plant Video Tour with Temple Grandin” and “Pork Plant Video Tour with Temple Grandin”. I just explain how it works. I don’t say it’s wonderful; I don’t say it’s bad. I just say “This is how it works”. What most people find when they go visit a plant is that it’s not the horror show that some of the animal activist groups say it is, but maybe it’s not as great as what the industry says it is. But I think ag needs to open up and show everything that they do.