Expert identifies simple indicators for tracking welfare
By LEE FARREN
For the Capital Press
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Temple Grandin, nationally known livestock handling and animal welfare expert, dropped by the Oregon State University campus on May 1 to speak to animal science classes, pay a visit to the university's dairy barn and deliver a presentation on animal handling, animal welfare and autism.
Autism is one of Grandin's specialties. Diagnosed in childhood with Asperger's syndrome, she has turned a disability into a strength. Grandin believes her autism, which she describes as highly visual, gives her unique insights into animal behavior.
Grandin earned her doctorate in animal science at the University of Illinois in 1989 and teaches at Colorado State University. She travels widely to speak on animal welfare and autism and consults with the livestock.
"Animals in translation: Using the mysteries of autism to decode animal behavior," was co-authored with science writer Catherine Johnson and came out earlier this year. In February HBO released "Temple Grandin," a film biography available on DVD this August.
Grandin's recent work involves animal welfare audits at meat plants for big retail businesses including McDonald's and Wendy's.
"How can we audit animal welfare in a practical way? I'm interested in doing practical things," Grandin said.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when she was designing handling facilities, Grandin realized that only about one-fifth of her clients retained the good handling practices the facilities promoted.
"Bad becomes normal. They slide back into bad practices," Grandin said.
One problem she saw was vague terminology. Words like proper, adequate and sufficient were not clear or measurable. She wanted guidelines like all pigs must have enough space to lie down without being on top of each other.
Working with the American Meat Institute, Grandin developed a scoring system for meat plants. Her five criteria include the number of animals correctly stunned on the first attempt, the number rendered insensible, the number prodded with an electric prod, the number vocalizing and the number that slip or fall. All five criteria can be directly observed and measured.
"The principle is to pick out the small number of critical control points that measure a multitude of problems. You can't have an audit that is too complicated," Grandin said.
Once the McDonald's audits started Grandin noticed a great improvement in the critical control points. The number of plants correctly stunning cattle, for instance, went up from 30 percent to 90 percent.
Most of the plants were able to improve their audit scores with inexpensive fixes like changing the lighting and adding non-slip flooring.
"It was not an expensive thing to implement. We were able to make a lot of old facilities work," Grandin said.
Grandin has expanded her auditing system to include farm audits, where one of the critical control points is lameness.
"Lameness is an outcome of many bad conditions -- poor housing, rapid growth, poor leg conformation, poor foot care, foot disease. I don't have to measure all these things, because if these things are bad I'll have lame cows," Grandin says.
Should the government regulate animal welfare?
"I've found the most effective thing is when you have the big customers making the rules. In 1999 when McDonald's started that audit I saw more changes than I'd seen in my entire career," Grandin said.
Learn more about Grandin's work at www.grandin.com