I visited a slaughter facility a few weeks ago and while this wasn’t a new experience for me, it was an unusual one. I’ve been in several plants, of both the beef and pork nature, around the United States and also in South Africa, Australia and Canada. They all vary in some degree but one thing remains a constant: the employees and management take the utmost care to provide the animals with a humane death.
The livestock and meat industries are constantly be pushed to be more transparent. By allowing the public to see what is really going on, they will be more accepting of general practices such as slaughter, castration and euthanasia. Temple Grandin Ph.D., has professed on numerous occasions the need for transparency in agriculture and in meat production. Because of this mindset in the meat industry, I was taken back on two events at the meat plant.
I might point out that all the people on this tour were from agriculture backgrounds and were involved in some facet of production agriculture.
First, the tour didn’t include a view of the stunning/knocking area. I realize that many people may not want to see that particular aspect of slaughter but the reality is that animals have to die for us to consume meat. For those individuals on the tour who had never been in a plant, seeing the stunning area is a critical component to their experience. Although this was not my biggest problem with the plant, it was most certainly frustrating.
The biggest disappointment lay in the fact that when I asked what percentage of animals were rendered unconscious on the first try, the answer was “One-hundred percent.” To which I replied with an incredulous look and “What?” The manager said, “That’s the PC answer and it’s all you’re getting.” Wow.
This is a problem. The fact that the manager wouldn’t tell a group of agriculture professionals what percentage of animals were stunned correctly on the first try is maddening. One hundred percent is absurd and quite frankly, not feasible. The American Meat Institute (AMI) Animal Handling Guidelines for animal welfare at slaughter plants outlines that 95% or greater of all animals must be rendered unconscious on the first try in order to pass the stunning audit. When two living beings and a piece of machinery are involved it’s hard to eliminate all error – something will go wrong occasionally, but not often. Dr. Grandin has said that if guidelines and goals are put in place, employees will achieve those goals. In a 2001 audit of food suppliers for McDonald’s and Wendy’s, 91% of the plants passed the stunning audit which required 95% or more of the animals to be effectively stunned with the first shot. As you can see, setting goals provides for accountability. The plant I toured probably has goals in place and is quite likely achieving 95% or higher, but we’ll never know because they failed to be transparent.
This is just one person’s opinion and maybe not every person who took a tour of the plant would have the same thoughts. And of course, not every plant is the same, they all differ in management strategies and the tours that are given. This experience just rubbed me the wrong way.
The lack of trust shown to the group of agriculture professionals was frustrating, and in my opinion, rude. If the managers of a plant don’t feel they can be honest and transparent with the people who raise the animals that are sent to the plant, how can we expect them to be open and honest with the consumer?