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