By: Temple Grandin, Ph.D., professor, animal behavior, Colorado State University
People sometimes ask me “what’s the most important thing you’ve done in animal welfare?”
I think people expect me to name something I’ve built, something that’s really complex with detailed blue prints. When you consider what has had the most impact, it’s not something I built, but something I wrote: the AMI Audit.
Back in 1996, U.S.D.A. asked me to do an audit of federally inspected plants. I delivered a report to them which identified some serious issues. The most serious was poor stunning. In that report, I proposed the idea that animal welfare could be measured objectively using numeric criteria. AMI read the recommendation and asked me to write the first animal welfare self-audit for the meat industry. I had written general guidelines for them in 1991, but this new effort would include a true audit.
The underlying idea was that if a plant measured performance, they could also manage it. For example, falls can be traumatic to livestock, but falls will happen. A plant that counts how often livestock fall and that has a industry benchmark can measure itself against others. A plant can also establish its own baseline so it can determine what’s normal performance and when a deviation might be a sign of a problem.
It’s almost like a teacher who knows that Johnny normally scores As on tests. If he scores a C, that’s a notable deviation that should prompt follow-up. Did he make a mistake on score sheet? Did he not understand a concept? Is something bothering him? The baseline helps target the problem and then solutions can be applied.
When the audit came out in 1997, it was slowly embraced. But in 1999, when McDonald’s made it a requirement for all suppliers, I saw more progress in a year than I’d seen in the previous 25. Other customers followed McDonald’s lead and soon other leading customers were running audit programs of their suppliers, too.
That same year, an annual Animal Care & Handling Conference began where we discussed the audit and key principles of humane handling. Word spread and over time, the audit achieved not just national, but global acceptance. American Humane Certified, Certified Humane and Whole Foods’ programs all use the AMI audit to measure welfare in plants.
I know it surprises many people when I tell them that the industry that slaughters animals was the first to ask me to write them an animal welfare audit, but it’s true. That germ of an idea in my 1996 report has now created change in meat packing industry and inspired other sectors of animal agriculture to follow suit with their own audits.
I will say that 2008 was a very bad year for the industry because that’s when some of the worst animal welfare practices were exposed in an undercover video shot at a plant in Chino, California. Many meat packers were really, really upset because it was so different from how they had some to handle livestock in their plants. AMI’s Animal Welfare Committee responded by asking me to help develop a transportation audit to add to the program. Jennifer Woods, who was one my students, did the heavy lifting on the audit. That came out in 2010 and this month, we published a refined version of it based upon two years of experience using it in the field.
It’s true: you manage what you measure. If you aren’t measuring, you need to visit Animalhandling.org and get started. More than a decade’s worth of data will prove that it works to create improvements. You can see the data at www.grandin.com. I hope all of you with a role in animal welfare will join me at the AMI Animal Handling Conference in October to learn more and keep the positive progress going and the focus squarely on animal welfare.
I’m always proud to tell people that you can only fix half of the problems with equipment. The other half comes from good management and auditing. Today, you can take a big step forward by downloading the new guidelines. The cost to your company is zero – they are free. So no excuses. Measure and manage and I can guarantee you’ll tell me six months later it was the best thing you ever did in your animal handling and stunning areas.