Temple Grandin, a best-selling author and public speaker who’s best known for her work in the animal welfare and autism advocacy movements, was the keynote speaker for this year’s Virginia Veterinary Conference held at the Hotel Roanoke.
She says performing animal handling procedures correctly is the most important issue facing the food handling and safety industry today.
“The meat packing plants have done a lot of new interventions for food safety, like steam washes on meat, much more careful skinning procedures. In animal handling, there’s been a lot of improvement. I started working in 1999 (with) the McDonald’s Corporation, Wendy’s, other companies on animal handling. I developed a very simple scoring system. How many animals are mooing their heads off in the stunning area? If more than 3% of those cattle (three out of 100) moo-they fail the audit. If more than 1% fall down, they fail the audit. And this has resulted in some great improvements.”
But she says the Department of Agriculture hasn’t done a good job of communicating its improvements with the public. “The problem is, ‘Ag’ is sort of in its own little society, and the public is just curious. There’s been a lot of improvements; there’s still things that need to be improved. And I think ‘Ag’ needs to open up the door electronically and just stream live video out to the internet.”
Among the areas where she sees room for improvement are phasing out small chicken cages and sow gestation stalls. But she says recent undercover video has shown the rough handling of animals has been eliminated.
Grandin says Europeans and South Americans have also made strides in the more humane handling and slaughter of animals. “But there’s still a bottom 10% that are doing some really bad things; that hasn’t changed. But the percentage of people who are doing good. That has gotten a whole lot better.”
Grandin wants Virginians to help in her mission by handling cattle correctly. “I think cattle handling has definitely improved but you’ve still got some people that are screaming and yelling at cattle and hitting them. We need to be stopping that sort of stuff.”
Karen Bowles from Richmond, a veterinary technician who teaches veterinary science to Henrico County high school students, was waiting in line to buy one of Grandin’s books and have her autograph it.
Bowles’ two sons have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism. “Many of my students have Aspergers and she’s also given me a lot of material that I can share with my students about animal behavior
Grandin thinks in pictures as does one of Bowles’ sons. “I know that animals also think in pictures and I find it amazing that the brain can handle that. Oftentimes the pictures don’t seem to have anything to do with the word in my mind, so it seems like a lot for the brain to handle. I think that autism is a super brain and they can focus on certain topics and maybe over-focus, which makes them very talented in certain areas.”
Grandin is working on a new book on cognition and a children’s author will soon be publishing a book for 5th and 6th graders about Grandin’s life that will feature many of her drawings.