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Animal Handling, Stunning in Packing Plants Shows Great Improvements, Welfare Expert Says

Tuesday, February 8, 2000

Animal handling and stunning in the meat industry has greatly improved in the last three years, according to world-renowned animal handling expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., assistant professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, and president of Grandin Livestock Handling Systems.

Grandin addressed more than 115 attendees at the American Meat Institute Foundation’s 2000 Conference on Animal Handling and Stunning, where she delivered her paper “1999 Audits of Stunning and Handling in Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Plants.”

In 1999, Grandin audited 19 federally inspected pork plants and 41 federally inspected beef plants and compared her data to a similar series of audits she conducted for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1996. The 1999 audits covered more than half of the medium sized and large beef and pork plants in the U.S. and is statistically representative of industry practices.

Grandin has been a pioneer in the concept of objective “scoring” of animal welfare. In her view, good animal welfare is not simply a subjective judgment. It can be measured using various sets of objective criteria, like animal slips and falls and the number of bellows and squeals made by animals as they move through the plants.

Use of a stunner to render livestock insensible to pain is required by the federal Humane Slaughter Act, a law which is monitored by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors who are present at all times in meat packing plants. According to Grandin, in 1999, 90 percent of beef plants were able to stun cattle 95 percent or more of the time on the first try. In 1996, only 30 percent of beef plants were able to achieve this level of accuracy. Her 1999 audits of pork plants showed that 17 out of 19 plants induced instant insensibility in pigs.

In 1996, Grandin said that pigs squealed continuously in many plants, while in 1999, 72 percent of plants had either acceptable or excellent vocalization scores. She also observed marked progress in reducing the use of electric prods to “drive” animals
through plants. If overused, these can agitate animals. Companies instead are using driving aids like colorful flags, plastic grocery bags which rustle and cause animals to move forward and plastic paddle sticks. These simple substitutes can be very effective, according to Grandin, yet less frightening to livestock.

Grandin attributes the dramatic improvements that she has observed to several factors. Major industry customers like McDonald’s Corporation have begun careful audit procedures of their suppliers to ensure that the best possible animal handling and stunning practices are used.

In addition, the American Meat Institute Foundation has been working with Grandin to issue Good Management Practices and training videos. In 1999, AMIF, together with McDonald’s and Grandin, issued comprehensive training videos illustrating how to implement and audit humane handling systems. In addition, the first training seminar on the topic was sponsored by AMIF in 1999 and attracted 130 key members of the beef and pork industry. Its popularity prompted AMIF to offer it again this week in Kansas City.

“Good handling is not only the right thing to do, it also has economic benefits,” according to Grandin. “Practical experience in many pork plants has show that reducing electric prod use and quiet handling in the stunning chute reduces a quality defect in pork
by about 10 percent. Good handling also reduces cattle bruising significantly, and this is both an animal welfare and a meat quality issue.. ”

She also noted that improved animal handling creates a safer workplace and prevents loss of production caused by agitated livestock.

“The industry seems to be increasingly aware of the importance of good animal handling and of its potential benefits,” she said. “Ongoing management commitment is needed to sustain progress throughout the industry.”

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
James Ratchford
Manager, Public Affairs

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