Welcome back for the second segment of my interview with Dr. Temple Grandin. What launched your interest in humane treatment of livestock in the first place? You could have become a radical vegetarian or militant animal welfare activist instead.
Well, I don't function very well if I don't eat meat. I also got to thinking, that it's really unnatural to be totally vegan. I agree that you don't need to eat ten pounds of steak a day; I'd agree with that. I feel very strongly that we got to give the animals that we raise for food a good life. And beef cattle, when they're raised right, probably have the best welfare because the cows and the bulls have always been out on pasture.
It doesn't matter whether they're raised for Whole Foods or they're raised for Tyson, cows and bulls live out on pasture. They're the mommies and the daddies for the calves and the calves spend half their lives out on pasture and the other half of their lives in feed yards. And then some people raise some pasture-raised beef. But cattle has always been outside and beef done right is actually one of the most humanely raised animals.
Didn't you have a relative who had a ranch?
My aunt had a guest ranch but the next door neighbors all around raised cattle so I was very much exposed to all this.
And they treated their animals humanely?
Most of them did. And the handling of cattle has gotten a lot better. Actually, some of the worst handling of cows is in the dairy cattle. You know you think the dairy industry has a good image but there have been some real problems with pushing dairy cows so much for production they fall apart metabolically. There are lots of dairies that do a good job but there are some dairies that do a bad job. Lameness in dairy cows is up to 25%. That's just terrible.
Are you working with dairies?
Yeah but some people just don't have a very good mentality. It doesn't have anything to do with whether the place is big or small. The most important variable is the attitude of the manager of the place. If the manager cares about handling animals in a good manner and good welfare, you'll have good welfare. If the manager doesn't care, then you're going to have a lot of bad stuff going on.
When I first started out in my career, I thought I could fix everything in the industry with engineering and designing a facility. So, I've now learned that I can only fix about half of things.
Why is that?
Well, because the other half is management. And in the last ten years, I've worked really hard on a numerical scoring system because I'd go out to a place and I'd get their handling really nice and then I'd come back a year later and there'd be hotshots and screaming again. What was happening was that people slowly went back to their old, rough ways. This could happen and they wouldn't even realize it was happening. So I've been a big advocate of getting out and measuring handling. How many cattle were bellowing and vocalizing during handling? How many cattle fell down during handling? How many cattle ran into a fence? How many cattle got poked with an electric prod? And then I can look at the numerical scores and ask, "Am I getting better or am I getting worse?"
Are the managers and their teams willing to do these measurements?
McDonald's Corporation started enforcing the measurement system I developed ten years ago, in 1999, and that resulted in a lot of improvements. Now, unfortunately, there are still some bad videos around on the Internet, bad stuff going on. But a lot of the plants, especially the big plants, cleaned up their act.
So it's a mixed bag.