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Temple Grandin urges meat packers to livestream operations

You've seen the headlines or maybe you’ve watched the videos.

Animal activists going undercover to uncover abuses in meat-packing plants have been in the news for several years. Sometimes their work leads to changes, but it also led five states to enact so-called "ag gag" laws, which make these undercover operations illegal.

Now Temple Grandin is weighing in on the issue. The renowned animal welfare expert, a Colorado State University animal science professor who has been the subject of an HBO film, told a Minnesota audience this week that meat packers should open the doors to their plants and show everything, even the slaughter of animals.

Don’t call the slaughterhouses “harvest facilities,” she said, and stop using what she called “PR fluff.” Allows the video cameras in and think about livestreaming the production lines, she said.

“We’ve got to show what we do. We’ve got to get over being bashful,” Grandin said, as quoted in the West Central Tribune.  “We’ve got to open the door and let the public see it.”

I found the story on Twitter and it immediately reminded me of a conversation I had a few months ago with Dr. Dan Thomson, a veterinarian with Kansas State University. I interviewed Thomson for a story I did for NPR’s “Meat Week,” on “Morning Edition.”  Thomson agrees with Grandin on using a euphemism for the term “slaughterhouse.”

“You know, I hear a lot of people say ‘This is not a slaughter facility. This is a harvest facility.’ I think we should just say what it is,” he said. “These cattle are placed in the finishing facility, or feedlot, for 150-200 days. And once they reach a point of desired fat, thickness or desired finishing point, and their efficiency begins to drop off, that’s when the animal goes to slaughter.”

I bring Thomson into this discussion because I recently watched a training he did to about 100 cattle producers in Emporia during “Beef Fest.” Part of his presentation involved showing producers how best to build their barns and pens and Thomson used a design created by Grandin. (See all her designs on her website.)

Thomson, among many in agriculture today, believes that advocates (which have become “agvocates on social media) must be more open to telling the story of farming. He has talked to hundreds of people – school kids, chefs, consumers – who need to be educated, he says, on where food comes from. And that’s not the grocery store.

“We need to educate people that when we put that bull in the pasture with the cow the intent from that point forward is to produce food, not a 15-hundred pound lap dog,” he told the producers at “Beef Fest.”

There are many – especially the cattle and hog commodity groups – who think too much openness will lead to more problems. Dave Sjeklocha, a feedlot consulting veterinarian at the Haskell County Animal Hospital in Sublette, Kan., wrote a piece for “Beef” magazine saying he has no problem with this new call for openness because consumers want to know more about their food.

But Sjeklocha questions the motives of those who push these ideas, saying they are often “groups whose goal is a vegetarian society (who) use animal welfare as a guise to further their agenda.”

“Is all this focus on animal stewardship a bad thing? Definitely not. We should take every opportunity to improve our stewardship. However, the organizations calling attention to us aren't interested in improving animal welfare per se; they're interested in ending animal agriculture by whatever means possible."

What do you think? Should packers have an open door policy and allow the process to be seen by the public? Or is an open-door policy just an opening for activists in their quest to end animal agriculture.

Share your experience with the Harvest Network.