November 17-23, 2014

Humane Slaughter

The first step to fixing a food system is understanding not only how a food system works but that everything you eat tells a story, including some you might prefer not to know about. As Grace Communications reveals, factory farming presents the biggest challenge to raising animals ethically, respecting them in life and death. There are solutions, of course. After all, industrial agriculture is a work in progress.

The proof of its forward motion can be found walking the halls of Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Sciences, where giant posters announce the school’s most recent research: “Characterization of Escherichia Coli 0157:H7 Shedding and Persistence in Feedlot Cattle”; “Effect of Feeding Frequency on Feedlot Steer Performance”; and “Use of blood lactate to measure swine handling stress from farm to processing plant: Relationship to pork quality,” which features the contribution of Temple Grandin, a CSU professor who actually sees things from an animal’s point of view. When she visits a feedlot, she grasps the architectural flaws that might spook an animal—abrupt pools of darkness, confusing patterns on walls or floors, building materials that make walking difficult—and proposes changes when necessary. This unusual gift, coupled with a doctoral degree in animal science, has made her one of the world’s most renowned designers of animal containment systems. Nearly 70 percent of all cattle in the United States now pass through systems of Grandin’s design. Temple presents solutions.

Nick Jones does too. Nick runs a small farm on a remote island off the coast of Washington. Recognizing the challenge of shipping livestock far away to be slaughtered, he created a mobile slaughterhouse, the first ever certified by the USDA.

On this week’s Food List, we’ll also meet those whose cultures have long taught traditions of using the entire animal, respecting it’s life even in death. Southern Foodways introduces us to Louisiana pig ranchers who kill, clean, and cook their own pigs, respecting the animals life by eating it from nose to tail. Perennial Plate takes us to the north, showing reference for Thanksgiving turkeys.

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“Observations made on several hundred farms, ranches, feedlots, and slaughter plants indicates that the single most important factor which affects animal welfare is the attitude of management. Places that have good animal welfare have a manager who cares about welfare. Places where animal welfare is poor often have a manager who does not care. A good manager enforces standards to maintain good welfare. Employees are well trained and people who abuse animals are punished. I have observed that the most effective manager is involved enough in day to day operations to care but he or she is not so involved that they become numb and desensitized to animal suffering. People who handle hundreds of animals each day can become desensitized. They need a strong manager to serve as their conscience.”
Dr. Temple Grandin


“Stunning an animal correctly will provide better meat quality. Improper electric stunning will cause bloodspots in the meat and bone fractures. Good stunning practices are also required so that a plant will be in compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act and for animal welfare. When stunning is done correctly, the animal feels no pain and it becomes instantly unconscious. An animal that is stunned properly will produce a still carcass that is safe for plant workers to work on.”
Dr. Temple Grandin

Woman sitting holding a scupture of a cow
Local Book CoverTitle: Humane Slaughter
Location: Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
Featuring: Temple Grandin
Found on Page 197 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

We need to make sure to give animals a good life and a calm death that is free from pain.

Nearly half the cattle in America are processed in meat plants using Temple Grandin’s Center Track Restrainer System. Temple Grandin’s Autism allows her to “see and think” like animals. Temple says the five main causes of animal welfare problems are stressful pre-slaughter handling, distractions that impede movement, lack of employee training, poor equipment maintenance, and poor conditions of animals arriving at the plant. Healthy animals who are properly handled from life through death. That’s the goal.


In Conversation with Temple Grandin
Professor of Animal Science and Facility Designer

Animal treatment and humane slaughter are parts of the complicated puzzle of sustainable and local food. Temple Grandin explains the benefits of focusing on one aspect at a time in order to make a difference. She describes her experiences with slaughterhouses, including the accomplishments that have been made and the difficulties that remain to be overcome.

Q: Can we create a locally based food system in terms of how we produce meat?

Temple Grandin: You start things one small project at a time and then that model spreads to other places. There are things that big ag can learn from little ag. And the best way to promote what you want to promote is just to start local things one small project at a time and make them work.

You need to bite off a chunk that you can get your head around. Pick out one thing to work on that’s something you can actually get done. I can get my head around fixing slaughter plants, rather than just talking overall about cheap food.

Q: What do you suggest in the case of animal welfare?

The first thing you have to do is stop people from beating up pigs with gate rods and beating animals up. Stop the rough handling. We found when we started the McDonald’s audit that the first thing we had to do was to get people under control and repair equipment. A lot of the problems were simply due to lack of repairs of the stunning equipment. It was just simple stuff that was causing a lot of problems like unsupervised employees doing bad things. We learned that there are certain people that shouldn’t be handling animals and they had to be removed.

The same thing was on farms, too.

Employee training and management is the first thing you have to do. Out of 75 McDonald’s suppliers, only 3 plants had to build really expensive stuff. The rest of them we fixed with training, supervision and simple fixes like non-slip flooring or putting a light on a chute so that animals would walk into the chute easier because they’re scared of the dark. You start with the simple things. Then you have to start thinking about some of the deep, big problems.

Q: What are the greatest challenges that people face when they want to become certified for humane treatment of animals?

One big problem is that we have a real shortage of local slaughter facilities, that’s a bad problem, and a lot of that has to do with inspection issues.

One of the things that’s a concern is centralizing agriculture because you get economies of scale. When the pig industry consolidated it put a lot of farmers out of business, and there was one major cost they could reduce. By having this huge centralized feed mill, your feed costs are reduced 30%. How does a small farmer compete against that? It’s the same thing with slaughter plants. Let’s say I have a plant that does 5,000 cattle a day or I have a plant that does maybe 1,000 cattle a day. The cost doesn’t go up in a straight line.

Q: Do you see mobile slaughterhouses having a future?

I think a chicken mobile slaughterhouse that goes around is a lot easier, but I think for beef mobile slaughterhouses what would be more viable would be what I call docking stations. It would come to the fairgrounds the first week of the month and the next week it would go to the local auction barn. Then you’ve got electric hookups, water hookups, a way to get rid of the sewage. It would park around in different places.

But one of the big issues is inspection. The meat has to be inspected. If you want to do something to get laws past, you need to do something to solve the inspection issue, because that’s a federal meat inspection. And the big problem right now is the government is cutting all the funding for everything.

Q: How do you base your work on your values and how can we allow consumers to shop for food with the same values that you apply?

I have really strong values. Animals have to have an acceptable level of welfare. First of all, you have to make sure the stunner works so that he’s made unconscious when he’s shot and you’re not poking him with electric prods and making him suffer.

I can make a large slaughter plant work in terms of animal welfare. If I can make small plants work, I can make big plants work, as long as they’re set up, designed, and managed right.

One of the things I’ve been saying to all kinds of ag, is that we need to just open the door electronically. I have videos “Beef Plant Video Tour with Temple Grandin” and “Pork Plant Video Tour with Temple Grandin”. I just explain how it works. I don’t say it’s wonderful; I don’t say it’s bad. I just say “This is how it works”. What most people find when they go visit a plant is that it’s not the horror show that some of the animal activist groups say it is, but maybe it’s not as great as what the industry says it is. But I think ag needs to open up and show everything that they do.

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Temple Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and also designs livestock facilities. Facilities that she’s designed are located worldwide. The systems she creates help decrease animal stress and her writings on the topic are a valuable resource used by many. Her books include Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human, which were both on the New York Times best seller list. She created an objective scoring system for animal treatment in slaughterhouses. Many companies are implementing this system to improve animal welfare.


Food Processing and Slaughterhouses

cow on a fieldThe drastic expansion of industrial animal production in the US has been accompanied by the rapid consolidation of the meat industry. This industry is now dominated by a handful of huge corporations that process most of the country’s meat at enormous facilities, and consolidation continues to increase.

When animals are slaughtered and processed, or, more bluntly, when the meat is cut up and packaged, several dangerous elements come into play. Grace Communications explores these dangerous and offers real solutions you and your family can begin doing in order to make our meat system a better one.

Link: Learn how you and your family can make help improve the meat industry.

Perennial Plate

Giving Thanks to Turkeys

Filmed at LTD Farm where the farmers invited the consumers to help butcher their turkeys and learn about the process. It’s very touching, but also a little graphic (you have been warned). An example of people really giving thanks for their turkey.

The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and Activist, Daniel Klein and Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.

logo of southern foodways alliance

Cochon in Avoyelles

A celebration of the Louisiana cochon de lait tradition. If you are fluent in French, you know that cochon de lait literally refers to a pig on milk, or a suckling pig. You may also know that the term refers to a style of cooking particular to Cajun Country in which such a pig is wired between two metal racks, hung from a chain, and cooked very near, but not directly over, a raging hardwood fire. These pigs are slaughtered with care by the community who cooks the pig in its entirety with the utmost respect.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. They set a common table where black and white, rich and poor — all who gather — may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation.

A member-supported non-profit, based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Southern Foodways Alliance stage symposia, produce documentary films, collect oral histories, sponsor scholarship, mentor students, and publish great writing. Donations from generous individuals, foundations, and companies fund our good work.

Sustainable Food Trust Logo

It Shouldn’t Happen to a Factory Farm Vet

pigsMany think of veterinarians as caring individuals overseeing our animals. Unfortunately, there is a darker side to the veterinary profession that is hidden from public view.

A growing number of vets work on farms that bear no resemblance to Herriot folklore. They work in dimly lit sheds and in abattoirs, and their work helps to prop up the factory farming system. Their aim is to keep animals alive long enough to be slaughtered profitably or to ensure they keep churning out enough milk or eggs to be commercially viable. This is the less romantic side of the veterinary profession.

Here, Sustainable Food Trust offers a solution: reassert the role of vets on factory farms.

Link: Meet the vets working to improve factor farms.

mobile slaughter
Local Book CoverTitle: Mobile Slaughterhouse
Location: Jones Family Farm, Lopez Island, Washington
Featuring: Nick Jones of Jones Family Farm
Found on Page 47 in Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America

This mobile slaughterhouse, the first sanctioned by the USDA, is an 8×12 foot trailer fitted with a sink, a 300 gallon water tank, a cooling locker with carcass hooks, a Jarvis 404 well saw. Two butchers work while one USDA inspector waits off screen.

Nick has been farming on Lopez Island for ten years. Instead of trucking livestock hundreds of miles—or in Nick’s case shipping them off this island—mobile slaughterhouses allow meat to stay local. The MSU allowed Nick to incubate his farm in the early years. While it isn’t the most economical solution (it costs approximately $650 per cow, $250 per hog and about $120 per goat or sheep), the MSU connects Nick with his fellow farmers and allows him to play a vital role in his community. The MSU also allows Nick to remain on Lopez Island where, due to climate, geography and history, he can produce truly distinctive extremely high quality foods.

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