Temple Grandin, AMI release video showing humane slaughter

Sep 7, 2012

Internationally recognized animal welfare expert and animal science professor Temple Grandin has teamed up with the American Meat Institute (AMI) to produce a video documenting humane methods for slaughtering cattle. Filmed at an unnamed slaughter facility, the video shows viewers unvarnished footage of cattle arriving at the plant, moving inside through the alleyways, being stunned with a captive bolt gun, and bleeding out prior to butchering.

Throughout the film, Grandin explains the process, pointing out the measures that are taken to ensure the cattle are not frightened or stressed, and that the kill process is quick and painless. Nonslip flooring, low-stress animal herding, and curved alleys are highlighted.

“We’re showing how things work, done right,” Grandin explains at the beginning of the film.

Titled “Humane Animal Handling in Beef Packing Plants,” the no-nonsense video has amassed over 10,000 hits on YouTube since its rollout several weeks ago. Coincidentally, the project was in the final production stages on Aug. 21 when the animal rights group “Compassion Over Killing” released an undercover film shot at Central Valley Meat Co. in California showing what appeared to be egregious instances of animal mistreatment.

“We moved quickly to finalize our video to help the public better understand and interpret the images in the undercover video,” explained Janet Riley, AMI senior vice president of Public Affairs and Professional Development, in an online post.

Although some portions of the “Compassion Over Killing” video show what appear to be clear violations of animal welfare protocols, other elements are misleading, Riley maintained. In particular, the undercover video shows stunned cattle hanging by one hind leg with the free leg still thrashing. The narrator suggests that the leg movement indicates the animals are conscious and in pain.

In the AMI video, Grandin candidly examines similar images, but explains that hind leg motion is a reflex that naturally occurs even after the animals are effectively dead.

Grandin points out that a much more accurate measure of whether the animal is conscious is the state of the head, which should be floppy with the tongue extended when the animal is properly stunned.

Although the AMI video’s release immediately following the “Compassion Over Killing’s” undercover footage was due more to coincidence than planning, the AMI film did seem to target other, previous efforts by animal rights groups to discredit the meat processing industry. Advertised as a “Glass Walls Project,” the AMI film particularly appeared to challenge a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign featuring Paul McCartney in which the famed Beatle maintains: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian,” while footage of animal abuse flickers in the background.

The meat industry seems to have taken PETA’s challenge seriously. Although some of the images in the AMI video may be disturbing to some consumers, the industry appears to have placed its bets on the idea that transparency is now more important to consumers than keeping the less picturesque aspects of the beef industry–like slaughter–hidden from public scrutiny.

“It’s no secret that consumers are demanding increasing transparency from institutions and companies,” remarked Riley.

“[The] meat industry wants to satisfy public curiosity about how we handle and process livestock. Sadly, most of the videos online detail problems that have occurred and sometimes present scenes from our plants that lack proper explanation, which can cause concerns.”

The internet is scattered with videos showing purported cases of animal abuse at slaughter facilities and farms. By contrast, there is little to no documentation of how proper and humane animal slaughter is done. AMI looks to be stepping in to fill the void by lifting the veil on the slaughter process. A high profile figure in the animal welfare debate, Grandin arguably brings a level of credibility to the project that other experts couldn’t.

“She has been our teacher, our partner and sometimes our critic. But she’s always been honest,” wrote Riley. “We … thank her for her willingness to be part of this major step forward in transparency.”

The AMI video can be viewed at: youtube.com/watch?v=VMqYYXswono. —  Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent