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The latest publication of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association features an article describing the advances in slaughter house procedures and the housing and treatment of livestock since the late 1990s. Although these changes do not please all groups and points of view, they do indicate that livestock production is moving in a direction that promotes humane treatment and increased productivity.

Cattle Production Standards

Dr. Temple Grandin, the pioneer in humane handling and slaughter practices, observes that “when livestock are brought to a slaughter plant today, they are less agitated, less often shocked with prods, and more likely to have a humane death than they were prior to the late 1990s.”

Much of this is owing to Dr. Grandin’s revolutionary designs in cattle handling and processing equipment. If you have not seen the movie Temple Grandin I urge all of you to do so. Through her kinship with the emotions of livestock she was able to meet the challenges of her own autism while adjusting to college life, later translating that into designs and techniques for handling cattle and other livestock. Her insights are the theory behind the popular pet clothing designed for decreasing anxious and fear behavior in pets.

As the author of the animal welfare standards for the Meat Institute Foundation, Dr. Grandin feels meatpacking plants are meeting humane standards. These plants still face challenges from livestock producers that ship old, lame or cattle unaccustomed to close human contact. Often the stress of shipping compounds the “wild fear” these animals already have. But she notes that just as large retailers, responding to their customers, have pressured positive changes in meatpacking practices, the meat packers are applying pressure to improve conditions at their suppliers’ farms.

Dr. Jennifer Walker, the director of dairy stewardship at Dean Foods, is working on the development of a welfare program for dairy cows that could be used throughout the dairy industry. The concept is to set the bar much higher for the standards of conditions so that producers who do not comply may find limited markets for their products, and will view compliance as a major brand move to protect their reputation among consumers.

The National Milk Producers Federation has recently implemented the Farmers Assuring Management Program. Its goal is to provide a data bank of dairy practices to stimulate improvements that can translate to quality assurance for product retailers. Presently 70 percent of the milk produced in the U.S. comes from dairies participating in this program.

Pork Production Standards

The National Pork Board’s director of animal welfare, Sherrie Niekamp, indicates that the major pork meatpackers are requiring swine producers to participate in the Pork Quality Assurance Plus certification program. The program requires on-site evaluations to identify needed improvements and compare quality with the program’s expectations.

As an example, this program has “shown farm employees that they can move swine through barns and onto trucks more quickly and without electrical prods by changing the lighting and bringing five or six at a time rather than 20.”

Poultry Production Standards

The United Egg Producer Certified program has “made a major difference in the housing and welfare of birds,” said Gene Gregory, former president and CEO of the United Egg Producers. With the endorsement of restaurant and grocery trade organizations, 85 percent of eggs produced in the U.S. come from participating farms. Many of these producers are proud of their accomplishments and would not revert to old practices even if program guidelines were rolled back. Many producers have installed conveyor belts to catch manure and prevent in from falling on birds below. It also improves air quality for the birds and workers.

Veterinarians have known for some time that practices that promote greater welfare for livestock will improve their health and productivity. The increased cost of production was always the balking point from producers. Now that consumers have shown they are willing to pay for these higher costs in order to ensure the humane treatment of their food, meatpackers and producers are less resistant to change and are in fact leading the way. There is still much work to be done but this carnivore is pleased with the winds of change.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Comments  5

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  • Carnivores
    05/23/2013 06:25pm

    I, for one, am more than willing to pay more for "happy" chickens, pigs and cattle. The last time I looked, the difference between a "chicken" and a "free range chicken" was about $6. $3 for the chicken and $9 for the free range chicken.

    I'm a bit concerned about the legal definition of "free range" (as well as trusting what the packaging says). It's my understanding that "free range" doesn't mean that a chicken can run around a good-sized pen or play in the sunshine.

    It's good that things are getting better, though.

  • Wow...
    05/24/2013 10:22am

    You're joking right?

    “when livestock are brought to a slaughter plant today, they are less agitated, less often shocked with prods, and more likely to have a humane death than they were prior to the late 1990s.”

    Have you seen ANY of the recent undercover footage from slaughterhouses? Why do you think so many states are trying to pass the Ag-Gag laws???

    Let's take a step back from the slaughterhouses and look for a moment at the Dairy industry. We all know that for cows to be able to give milk, they have to give birth. What do you think happens to that calf the moment he/she is born? Do you think the dairy producers let her suckle from the milk they're mass producing for consumers? Absolutely not! The calves are stolen from their mothers, isolated, and if they are female either raised on formula until they are old enough to become a slave themselves, just like her mother, or if they are males they are sent to slaughter to become veal. And when the cow can no longer give the milk she used to, they ship her to slaughter.

    Pigs are kept in cages so small they can't turn around, just stand up or lay down so that they are just nursing machines to more piglets. Piglets teeth, tail and testicles are cut off without anesthesia.

    Chickens raised to produce eggs are kept in battery cages and often get their heads and legs caught in the cage wires and die a slow painful death.
    "Free range" chickens are housed in a barn with thousands of other chickens, never seeing the light of day or being able to behave in normal chicken ways (ie build nests, choose social groups, choose mates, have dirt baths). They are also pumped so full of hormones to grow their bodies to the point where they can't hold their own weight and become crippled.

    Lets talk about shipment - animals are crammed in trucks for hours/days regardless of cold or hot weather. Often in very cold weather their bodies can freeze to the sides of the truck and the workers will just "peel" the animals off the truck.

    The amount of grain and water used in a year to feed our factory farmed animals could feed all the third world countries many times over.

    Don't kid yourself with the propaganda from this article - it's a joke.

  • 05/25/2013 04:10pm

    amen

  • US Slaughterhouses
    05/24/2013 10:43am

    The work of killing in a slaughterhouse takes a major emotional toll on the workers. Here's one worker's account:
    "I've taken out my job pressure and frustration on the animals, on my wife and on myself... with heavy drinking. With an animal who pisses you off, you don't just kill it. You f--in blow the windpipe, make it drown in it's own blood, split it's nose. I would cut it's eye out... and this hog would just scream. One time I f--in sliced off the end of a hog's nose. The hog went crazy, so I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts."

    - from the book "Slaughterhouse - The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry" (2007) by Gail Eisnitz.

  • 05/25/2013 04:08pm

    OMG..no wonder AG-Gag are being passed. Surely don't want to see your frustration acted out on any animal..
    Get another job if frustrations cause these actions.
    Animal cruelty at its worse.

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