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How to Get Meat Sector Welfare Message across to Modern Generation

27 November 2014

Young adults in developed countries are distanced from agriculture and the meat industry needs to do a better job of communicating with them.

In a research paper by the animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, Animal welfare and society concerns finding the missing link, she says that retailers are major drivers of animal welfare standards enforcement and they respond to pressure from both activists and consumers.

The paper published in Meat Science says that there are two basic types of animal welfare issues - abuse or neglect of animals, caused by direct action by humans and welfare issues where either a process or equipment has to be changed to improve animal welfare.

These issues can be divided into two subcategories, says Prof Grandin.

They are problems that can be corrected by either repairing or a slight modification of existing equipment or procedures. The second type of problem will require major equipment changes.

Compared to farms, welfare issues at slaughter plants are easier and less expensive to remedy.

“People always ask if animals know they are going to slaughter. Cortisol data collected both on the farm during restraint in a headgate and in the abattoir, indicate that stress levels are similar in both places (Grandin, 1997 and Michell et al., 1988),” the paper sayd.

“Cattle and pigs that become agitated shortly before slaughter have higher lactate and reduced meat quality (Edwards et al., 2010 and Gruber et al., 2010).

“Surveys done by Grandin, 2000 and Grandin, 2005 and Gallo, Teuber, Cartes, Uribe, & Grandin (2003) showed that the use of numerical scoring could be used to document how simple changes improved stunning and animal handling. The scoring system is described in Grandin, 1998 and Grandin, 2010a.”

The most controversial area from a welfare point of view is religious slaughter where preslaughter stunning is not used (Anil, 2012).

Prof Grandin says that many Muslim religious authorities will allow preslaughter stunning (Nakyinsige et al., 2013) and the use of properly done preslaughter stunning eliminates welfare issues associated with religious slaughter without stunning.

Stunning would make religious slaughter similar to conventional slaughter.

However, she adds that many orthodox Jewish rabbis and some Muslims require a conscious animal that is slaughtered without either precut or immediate post cut stunning. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss whether or not slaughter without stunning should be banned.

“There are two separate welfare issues when slaughter without stunning is being evaluated. They are the method used to hold and restrain the animal and painfulness of the throat cut,” Prof Grandin says.

“Welfare for slaughter without stunning can be improved by restraining an animal in a less stressful manner (Grandin, 1992), but there are still serious welfare questions about pain or distress from the throat cut.”

The major role that retailers play in improving animal welfare both on the farm and in the slaughter plant is highlighted by Prof Grandin, who says that when activists put pressure on retailers they react by strengthening their standards.

Consumers fall into two groups: the high-end consumers who buy natural, organic, and high welfare meats, and regular consumers who are more price sensitive.

These two groups are both important market sectors.

“Wealthy consumers in developed countries are often willing to pay for high end welfare verified products,” the study says.

“European consumers were more likely to be willing to pay where they had high trust in an animal friendly brand. Lower income consumers will often buy the cheapest product and the demand for meat is growing around the world.

“Consumers often become more concerned about animal welfare after a shocking undercover video is released.

“In the U.S. food safety is the highest concern.”

Prof Grandin concludes that some good effective responses of the meat industry to communicate better with today's internet connected consumer was opening the Cargill plant in Colorado to the Oprah Winfrey TV Show and beef plant video tour with Temple Grandin (American Meat Institute, 2012). This video has had over 100,000 views.

Chandler Keys, a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. states that consumers just want to know how things work.

“It is impossible to hide from undercover video because now every telephone is a video camera,” the study says.

“A pro-active step that some US and Canadian plants have done is video auditing by third party auditors. This prevents the problem of people acting good when they knew they are being watched.”

Prof Grandin says that consumers need to learn that pre-slaughter stress levels are similar to on-farm handling (Grandin, 1997 and Gruber et al., 2010).

However, she attacks legislative measures that try to protect the industry by hiding what goes on behind the gates of the processing plant.

She says the so-called Ag Gag laws, which make it a crime to take undercover video, are a bad response to consumer and NGO pressure and questions.

“This sends the wrong message to today's consumer. Agriculture has to look at everything it does and ask themselves, ‘Can I explain this to my guests from the city’,” Prof Grandin says.

“I have worked over 40 years in this industry and I am proud of the improvements I helped achieve.

“We need to show it. Consumers do not like sudden surprises.

“US consumer's rejection of finely textured beef, which is recovered from fat trimmings caused several large plants to close.

“A major problem with this issue was lack of listing the recovered beef on the label.

“The meat industry needs to be transparent and explain and show everything we do.

“Many practices can be easily defended but some practices will have to be changed.”

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

November 2014

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