Weather Forecast


Animal welfare expert: Ag producers have to show everything

Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal welfare expert and autism advocate, addresses an audience Wednesday during the animal science conference at the MinnWest Technology campus in Willmar. Grandin urged animal agriculture and meat production industry professionals at the conference to offer the public an inside look at their processes. Tribune photos by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- World-renowned animal welfare expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin refuses to call an animal slaughterhouse a "harvest facility" and wants the animal agriculture and meat production industry to stop publishing "PR fluff" about what really happens in the packing house.

"We've got to show what we do. We've got to get over being bashful," the Colorado State University animal science professor said Wednesday at the Animal Science Conference and Venture Forum at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.

"We've got to open the door and let the public see it."

Grandin has designed livestock handling facilities worldwide. Almost half of the cattle in North America are handled in a system that she designed for the meat plants. She has written about and speaks extensively on livestock handling, animal behavior and humane slaughter.

She said Wednesday that Jennie-O Turkey Store should make a video of the turkey roundup -- workers gathering up turkeys onto the trucks for transport to slaughter. She said the videos should be shown like training video and would help consumers connect themselves to the real processes of animal agriculture and meat production.

Consumers are not connected to agriculture and ask Grandin to explain basics like what a feedlot is, she said during the keynote address at the event. She cited a British study that showed that one half of young people aged 16 to 25 who were polled could not connect a pig to bacon.

Those uninformed young people who do not know the basic information about animal production and where their meat comes from may get the only information they have from websites operated by animal welfare activists.

Grandin followed her own advice last month, when she and the American Meat Institute expedited the release of a video showing the cattle slaughter process. The release was speeded up after the temporary closure of the Central Valley Meat Company in California in mid-August after an undercover video by an animal activist group showed alleged maltreatment of dairy cattle going to slaughter.

Grandin urged the industry professionals at the conference to "show stuff done right" and to "put up tons and tons of videos" showing the entire process. She has posted a video of a pig being stunned at a packing plant and it received 2.4 million views.

"We should just live stream everything," she said.

The autism advocate spend about half of her 75-minute speech and question-and-answer period urging the technology innovators and investors at the conference to reach out to the "quirky" and "geeky" young people, who are likely on the autism spectrum, and encourage the young people to consider agriculture technology as a career.

While a normal mind drops out the details and focuses on the larger picture, she said that an autistic mind delves into the details, making autistic individuals better at understanding art, design, computer programing and, in Grandin's case, how animals sense what is around them.

Special education teachers in schools work best with children on the bottom half of the autism spectrum, those with profound handicaps and deficits who need the most help. Grandin said the school systems need to turn the "quirky" kids, the higher-functioning autistic individuals, to science by bolstering those programs and keeping the hands-on classes such as shop, sewing and art.

Young people, particularly autistic children, need adult guidance and mentoring to develop their interests and abilities in the science and technology. "Abilities have to be developed," she said. "Disciplines must be introduced to them."

Students should be introduced to agriculture technology businesses, and potential careers in middle school, Grandin advocated, using the local example of Nova-Tech Engineering.

It's simple, she said, "if you don't show kids interesting stuff, they won't get interested in interesting stuff."

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

(320) 214-4373