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AMI Tells Congress That Long-Standing Partnership With Animal Welfare Expert Dr. Temple Grandin Has Yielded Dramatic Change in U.S. Meat Industry

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A sixteen-year partnership with leading animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin has helped revolutionize animal handling in the meat packing industry, according to AMI Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Professional Development Janet Riley, who submitted testimony to a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry hearing on animal welfare.

Riley told the Subcommittee that the U.S. meat packing industry is unique because it must comply with the Humane Slaughter Act, which is enforced by federal inspectors who are in our packing plants continuously. “No other sector of animal agriculture has this level of regulatory oversight,” Riley said. “But it is important to note that our industry seeks not just to meet federal humane slaughter requirements – we seek to exceed them.”

Riley said the meat industry took four key steps that have changed the way we handle our animals and improved animal welfare in measurable ways: 1) formation of a partnership with leading animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin in 1991; 2) launch of the first industry specific animal welfare audit in 1997; 3) development of training initiatives beginning in 1999 to encourage continuous improvement; and 4) 2002 declaration of animal welfare as a non-competitive issue in the meat industry.

Dr. Grandin, now the subject of books and television programs, was relatively new to animal welfare. As a result of her lifelong battle to emerge from autism, she developed a special appreciation for the way animals think visually and for the things that can be overwhelming to animals from a sensory perspective. According to Riley, Grandin offered practical, applied ideas about how to enhance welfare by working with – and not against – an animal’s natural tendencies. These practices were detailed AMI’s 1991 Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines for Meat Packers, which Dr. Grandin authored.

Riley cited as an example her recommendation to use serpentine chutes that leverage an animal’s natural curiosity to see what is around a corner to encourage them to move forward. This reduced the need for aggressive driving and electric prod use.

“By trying to look at our plants as an animal would, we now understand how to use lighting, air flow and even certain color paints to help livestock remain calm and to reduce livestock stress. This is not only is more humane, it also enhances meat quality,” Riley said. “Treating animals in an optimal way is not just the right approach from an ethical perspective, it is the right approach economically.”

In 1996, after Dr. Grandin audited U.S. meat packing plants, she concluded that animal welfare in meat packing plants could be evaluated objectively. She argued that by developing measurable criteria and auditing regularly, we could monitor welfare in our plants and strive for continuous improvement. AMI’s Animal Welfare Committee endorsed this idea and in 1997, released the first animal welfare audit document called Good Management Practices for Animal Handling and Stunning. The industry began monitoring criteria that include:

• Slips and falls by livestock
• How often they vocalize
• How frequently electric prods are used
• How accurately animals are stunned
• Provision of water at all times
• And how effectively livestock are made insensible during processing.

“Dr. Grandin argued that you manage what you measure. The act of counting and measuring with regularity ensures that when a deviation occurs, a plant can explore and rectify the cause,” Riley said. By 1999, major restaurant customers were requiring the use of this audit as a requirement for doing business. The “AMI audit” also is used around the world and by certification groups like Certified Humane and Free Farmed.

In 1999, AMI launched a conference to train members in the principles of this audit. In March 2007, 300 members of the industry attended two days of training in Kansas City. The conference was the first of its kind and today remains the largest.

“During these two days, our plant employees learn from Dr. Grandin’s colorful style of training and they are encouraged to ask questions of her and of their peers and other academics, who co-present with her,” Riley said. “Through this conference, we have sought to professionalize the role of the animal handler and to emphasize the significance of the jobs these employees do.”

In 2002, AMI’s Board affirmed a motion by the Animal Welfare Committee to make animal welfare a non-competitive issue. As a result of this non-competitive philosophy, if a member has an animal handling challenge, he or she can contact AMI and the Institute will facilitate dialogue with other members with similar operations.

“My years in this area have shown me that people are a critical factor in animal welfare. Often, we read in this newspaper that groups are arguing for one system over another. The animal welfare debate is cast in black and white terms with one system being good and another being bad. But I have learned that systems can be managed well and they can be managed poorly. A small, low-tech plant with well-trained people can achieve the same kind of outcomes as a larger, high-tech plant,” Riley said.

“It takes management commitment and continuous monitoring. What matters most is the outcome and that is why we focus so heavily on achieving measurable outcomes,” she added.

“Our industry’s comprehensive animal welfare efforts come as a surprise to many. But I’m pleased to say that they are second nature to us. Ten years ago, the thought of counting moos in a meat packing plant raised some eyebrows. But now, we don’t let a week go by without it,” Riley said. “Dr. Grandin has provided inspiration and motivation. And our members have provided the commitment to make what were once her theories a reality.”

All of AMI’s efforts, materials and guidelines are available on www.animalhandling.org. The site is public and the guidelines are free. To read Riley’s testimony in its entirety, go to: www.meatinstitute.org


For more information contact:
David Ray
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Sr. Vice President, Public Affairs

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