Sunday, January 31, 2010

Meeting Dr. Temple Grandin -- HBO's Upcoming Movie

Last Spring I was at a "Cooking for Solutions" event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, learning about farming, fishing, and animal rights issues.  One of the panel sessions was on the "Humane Treatment of Farm Animals: Best Practices and New Directions" with Panelist Dr. Temple Grandin.  And her story is the focus of an upcoming HBO movie "Temple Grandin" on February 6.  Dr. Grandin has autism, which has given her challenges but also immense gifts that have been applied in the area of animal science.

At the Monterey event, I would say a majority of us were unaware of Grandin's autism.  She came across extremely assertive -- almost shockingly so -- and several us would turn heads and look at each other when she would make forceful statements early on into the presentation.  All of us had the look ... wouldn't want to get on her bad side.

However, as the afternoon progressed, it became increasingly apparent who was the most educated, articulate, and solution oriented on the subject of humane farm animal treatment.  And that was Dr. Grandin.  In fact, when the buzzer rang to end the discussion, no one wanted to end the panel's time.  We had all been convinced of humane solutions, even when scaling up, and wanted to know more, largely due to Dr. Grandin's immense passion for the subject.

Here are some of Grandin's quotes and comments --

  • Speaking of cows and pigs and how they develop fear of humans when inhumanely kept and raised -- "Animals afraid of people produce less milk and less piglets."  In fact, one of the other panelists, Marcus Benedetti, said about cows that "the longer an animal can live more comfortably, the better milk [it] produces for a longer period of time."
  • She spoke about how there should be a scoring system for handling and slaughtering animals -- a simple auditing system -- "Slaughter houses are easier to deal with than farmers because slaughter houses are highly regulated and used to standards.  We must have reasonable standards depending on each region."  She said that some regions have needs and conditions which other regions do not -- thus the by-region regulations.
  • Grandin said there needs to be a new eco label when it comes to animal products and have this label based on a triple-check sysytem of 1) internal audits, 2) third-party verification, and 3) custom audits from buyers and a random basis --  "[If the producers have] clear guidelines, then they will actually do it."  Areas of Grandin's particular concern were lame animals, body conditions, dirty animals, lesions, swellings, bald spots, lumps, sick animals that don't get treated, chemical levels, lice, and pastures that have less than 75% vegetation.
  • She also felt strongly that the behavior of animals tells us a lot about how to tell if animals are humanely treated, noting that when you see irregular behavior it is a sign of maltreatment.  

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