by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (DTN) — The livestock industry must continue to improve the treatment of animals despite gains made in humane-handling practices in recent decades, Temple Grandin told attendees at the Farm Bureau annual convention.
The American Farm Bureau Federation honored Grandin with a distinguished service award Jan. 11 at the meeting.
[EasyDNNGallery|822|Width|350|Height|350|position|left|resizecrop|False|lightbox|False|title|False|description|False|redirection|False|LinkText||]Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is renowned for her lifelong work improving animal welfare. She also lectures on autism and her experiences as an autistic person, which she credits with helping her see livestock industry issues from a different perspective.
In receiving her award, Grandin told Farm Bureau members better handling and treatment of livestock has to move from the packing plant back to the farm level, particularly to reduce lameness issues that come from intense production.
“I'm no vegan or vegetarian. I eat all the meats and plan to keep eating them,” she said, speaking to reporters afterward. “But we have to do a better job treating the animals better.”
Despite all her work to improve the treatment of livestock and poultry, Grandin pointed out she still draws fire from activists opposed to any meat consumption. “I was called a Nazi at a Barnes and Noble in New York a few years ago because I designed a slaughterhouse,” she said. “It's very difficult when you get bashed by both sides.”
Grandin said meat packers have worked hard in recent years to improve their treatment of animals and ensure more humane killing methods. Handling has gotten better as well. She recently toured a couple of larger packing plants and was impressed with how far they have come since the 1990s. Yet, she said packing plants are now getting a growing number of animals with lameness issues and other foot or hoof problems that really go back to the farm level.
“The problems I'm seeing at slaughterhouses are something I'm going to have to fix at the farm,” she said.
The genetics that concentrate heavily on increased milk production are leading to a lot of management issues with dairy cattle.
“Dairy cows are getting huge. They don't fit in trucks anymore,” she said. “Some dairy cows come in lame. Others come in in very bad condition — super skinny.”
Dairy production should focus on what's optimal for milk production from a cow, not how much production can come from a cow over a shorter lifespan, she said. Grandin cited Fair Oaks Farm in Illinois for switching to a smaller cow that produces for more lactation periods than other commercial operations. “I think we have to look at what's optimal. One of the big issues I see in the future is what I call biological system overload.”
Grandin also criticized studies declaring beef cattle as “inefficient” for food production because of the acreage taken to raise cattle compared to hogs or poultry. Grandin said such analysis misses the point. Ranches are where they are for a reason. “That's land you can't use for crops.”
She also notes water sources put onto ranches also provide extra water for wildlife in the area. Ranchers don't do a good job of emphasizing such positive elements of ranching, Grandin said. “Let's show the world how ranchers are really great stewards of the land.”
Video investigations are still having a devastating effect on livestock producers. In at least some cases, Grandin said, animal activists mislead in the way they show the videos. Grandin said she wished there were websites showing what was going on at a livestock operation 24/7 with webcams and also farm visits for “complete transparency,” she said. “You can't get away from the video concerns. Everybody's got one.”
She also noted that consumers “do not like surprises,” which is why the lean finely-textured beef situation became so controversial with the term “pink slime.” Such meat processes should be labeled, she said.
Because of her own experience learning about ranching as a teenager in Arizona, Grandin said farmers, schools and other institutions need to do a better job of helping American youth reconnect with animal husbandry. Too many children are disconnected from meat production, but also from developing an understanding of livestock in general. Grandin ripped on Illinois, for instance, for cutting funding for Future Farmers of America and agricultural programs in school.
Speaking about an area somewhat outside her normal focus, Grandin said farmers need to concentrate on telling the story of biotechnology or GMOs in terms of the ability to increase no-till farming to protect land from soil erosion and add other conservation practices.
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Posted by Jami Howell