As part of our ongoing expert Q&A series, a conversation with
world-renowned livestock expert Temple Grandin on humane handling,
small vs. big, transparency, and the future of agriculture
Temple Grandin has been a thought leader in both the animal agriculture
and autism realms for decades. Grandin, the world’s most well-known
autistic person, is a New York Times best-selling author, a professor
of animal science, a consultant to the leading food companies, and a
noted speaker on animal behavior and autism. She attributes her success
in improving humane handling systems for livestock, systems that now
impact around half the cattle in North America, to her different way of
thinking. “As a person with autism, it is easy for me to understand how
animals think because my thinking processes are like an animal’s,” she
says. Earlier this year, Grandin was named a “Hero” among TIME
Magazine’s 100 most influential people and was the subject of the HBO
film Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes.
Food Safety News recently sat down with Grandin to discuss meat production and humane handling.
Part I of the interview, discussing big vs. small ag and the need for more transparency in the meat system appeared in Food Safety News yesterday.
Q: So much of what we do see are the really bad
examples, the undercover whistleblower stuff…the veal in Vermont, the
recent dairy incident…
A: That was horrible, horrible, just horrible. That guy [from Conklin dairy] also has felony charges on an illegal gun.
Q: Are these isolated incidents?
places are not doing stuff that horrible. To say that every dairy
treats their animals that way, no, that’s wrong, they’re not. But on
the other hand, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, between
the animal rights advocates that say everything is an atrocity, to the
industry who says everything’s just fine. I’ve worked in a lot of
places. It’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a constant battle. You can’t
under staff and overwork. Tired people are more likely to get angry,
and so are overworked people.
Q: What about high turnover?
if you treat the people decently you want have such high turnover. I
was horrified to find out about a dairy that was working its Mexican
employees 12 hours a day and not giving them lunch breaks, that’s just
terrible. I think we have to have more customers getting involved. I
just read something about people jumping off the roof in some factory
in China. Well, whosever electronics electronic doo-dads are getting
made in that factory, those companies need to go into those factories
and straighten this out. That’s unacceptable. Customers drive change.
Knowing what you know, are there certain things that you avoid, do you
understand the difficulties consumers face trying to make sense of all
A: I’m very concerned about what I call
biological system overload. We’re pushing chickens, turkeys, dairy
cows, and other animals to where they’re falling apart. We’re seeing
lameness and abnormal growth problems. Beef cattle still live outside
so we haven’t messed them up.
Q: Do you think that affects us?
No, no I don’t think it affects us. A lot of people think chickens are
fed hormones and they’re not. The chickens just grow really fast
because they’ve been bred to grow really fast. It’s genetics. Same
thing with turkeys.
Q: Do you have confidence in the way we raise, slaughter, and process meat?
it’s done right, yeah. Things have to be done right. You’ve got to
figure out critical control points are really important, and you’ve got
to do it right.
Q: Do you take issue with the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed?
The thing that’s not known, when it comes to antibiotics in feed, is
that a lot of it comes out the backside of the animal. What does that
do? It’s a massive, uncontrolled experiment. I’m not worried about
eating the meat, that doesn’t worry me. The meat’s fine. With the
antibiotics you’ve got science and nature…I’m reading a ton of red
flags. I’m going to call them red flags at this point.
look real sensible into the future… There’s things that big Ag can
learn from organic. In the future, there will be a new large scale type
of commercial agriculture. We’re still going to use chemicals, we’re
still going to use antibiotics, but we’re going to use a whole lot less of them.
We’re going to adopt some of these crop rotation practices, get rid of
some of the monoculture and kind of make a new large-scale commercial
that will be economical. But, as long as corn and oil are cheap, this
no economic incentive to change.
Somewhere in the middle I can
see some kind of a hybrid thing forming. Right now, big Ag looks at
Michael Pollan as being kind of evil. Well I say, ‘there’s a lot of
things that Michael Pollan and you agree on, have you ever actually
read the book?’