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Animal Handling and Stunning in Packing Plants Shows Continued Improvement, Welfare Expert Says

Thursday, February 1, 2001

Animal handling and stunning in U.S. beef and pork packing plants show continued improvements, according to data collected by world-renowned welfare expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., assistant professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Her data will be discussed February 2, 2001 at an Animal Handling and Stunning Workshop in Kansas City sponsored by the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF).

Grandin collected the data during audits sponsored by McDonald’s Corporation to ensure proper handling in the plants supplying the restaurant chain. In compiling the data, the McDonald’s audit team visited 49 federally inspected beef plants in 12 different states and 19 federally inspected pork plants in eight different states.

In 1996, Grandin wrote objective criteria endorsed by AMIF in its Good Management Practices for Animal Handling and Stunning that help to evaluate handling and stunning in plants. The AMIF GMPs encourage plants to monitor factors like the number of times livestock slip or fall, how frequently livestock vocalize (which can indicate stress) and how successful the stunner operator is in making an animal insensible to pain with a single shot of a stunner.

Stunning of livestock is required by the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act, a law which is enforced by USDA inspectors that are present in packing plants during every moment of operation.

According to her 2000 audit, the average first shot stunning efficacy rate in beef cattle was 97.87 percent. In pork plants, 17 of the 19 plants induced instant insensibility in pigs. Problems identified in two of the 19 plants were corrected, according to Grandin.

In 2000, 80 percent of the beef plants passed the vocalization audit with three percent of cattle vocalizing. In 1999, 71 percent of the plants passed. None of the plants received a “serious problem” rating, which is assigned when more than 10 percent of cattle vocalize. According to Grandin, improvements in pig handling have greatly reduced squealing during handling of pigs. Her data show that 94 percent of plants had acceptable or excellent levels of squealing compared to 73 percent in 1999.

Also this year, 45 percent of beef plants received excellent scores on electric prod use – scores given when zero to five percent of cattle are prodded. Sixty-eight percent of plants had eliminated the use of electric prods in the crowd pen. Four plants had completely eliminated electric prods in the entire system. Grandin has promoted alternatives to the use of prods, like sticks with grocery bags that rustle and large flags which prompt animals to move forward without causing pain or stress.

Notably, Grandin found limited differences in scores when audits were announced versus unannounced. In 1999, when auditing first began, Grandin found much greater differences.

Based on her findings, Grandin suggested a number of improvements in plants, including improving flooring to eliminate slippage in stunning boxes, which can complicate stunning; redesigning noisy gates that frighten cattle causing them to balk; using caution not to overload equipment and improving pig stunning procedures through workstation and stunner redesign and modifications to slaughter procedures.
Grandin attributes the continued improvements she has observed to a number of factors. First, industry customers like McDonald’s Corporation have made animal welfare a top priority. In an effort to respond to customer concerns, meat companies have embraced handling and stunning training and the concept of self-audits – actions which translate into documented improvements.

AMIF this week is offering its third annual Animal Handling and Stunning Workshop, which will address an overflow crowd of 140 attendees. As part of the course, attendees will receive AMIF’s training videos for “Good Animal Handling Practices for Beef Processors” and “Good Animal Handling Practices for Pork Processors,” produced in 1999 in collaboration with McDonald’s and Grandin.

“Efforts to improve animal handling and stunning in packing plants are good for animals and good for plants,” Grandin said. “Humane handling is simply ‘the right thing,’ but it also has product quality and worker safety benefits.”

“Management commitment to welfare programs is key if we are to sustain the type of continuous improvement as we have seen in the last few years,” she added.

Grandin’s complete data is posted at http://www.grandin.com.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

The AMI Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to research, education and information that benefit the meat and poultry industry. Originally created in 1944, the AMI Foundation today solicits grants from government, industry and other organizations to fund a broad range of food safety, worker safety, nutrition and consumer information projects.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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