Part 2: Beef + Transparency = Trust
By Kylene Scott
[Editor's note: The first part of this two-part series, Beef + Transparency = Trust, appeared in the Oct. 29 issue.]
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., led off the second half of the Beef + Transparency = Trust meeting held Oct. 3 in Denver, Colo.
Sponsored by Colorado State University, Center for Meat Safety and Quality along with Colorado beef producers and the Beef Checkoff Program, the event helped attendees examine each aspect of the beef industry. Researchers, feedlot operators, veterinarians, animal behavior specialists and others gathered to help tell the beef production story. Segments outlined the cow-calf operators, stockers, feeders, slaughter and many specifics during the production cycle.
Organizers hoped the event would show modern beef production in a positive light by letting real producers and experts illustrate their lives and jobs during separate segments. Each speaker aimed to provide factual, honest and objective information. Most in the audience were from "influencers" from various areas outside of the beef industry. They included consumer media, food writers, nutritionists and food-business executives.
Temple Grandin has spent 35 years of her career working to improve slaughter plants, and is an acclaimed animal behavior advocate. Not one to mince words, Grandin refused to call slaughter by any other term. She showed a video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMqYYXswono, that described modern-day slaughter and showed what people outside of the industry need to see. During the video Grandin explained the process and advancements to keep the cattle safe and calm.
"I think in ag, we've got to show everything we do," Grandin said. "People ask if they are (the cattle) afraid of getting slaughtered. No, they act the same way they do on the ranch."
The video followed cattle through the slaughter process from unloading off the truck to the animals being hung on the rail to eventually being processed in to retail cuts.
"The main thing needed to be shown was the handling and the stunning," Grandin said. "I think we need to show that."
Not everyone knows where their food comes from, and Grandin is still shocked by students who are misinformed.
"College students don't know where anything comes from," Grandin said. "They think eggs come from trees and milk comes from factories. There is a total disconnect from all things practical."
People from other countries are just as disconnected, but by being transparent, Grandin thinks it will help the industry improve its image and the way consumers think about food.
"We must open up the door and be absolutely clear on what we do," she said. "Some things could change."
Grandin is especially proud of the work she has done with designing the handling facilities at processing plants. Those plants that are set up right work efficiently. Recently she has been working with companies and video auditing.
"I'm a really, really big fan of video auditing," Grandin said. "Plants in Alabama can watch for practices (during the slaughter process). It prevents acting good when the clipboard is around."
Video cameras are placed at strategic locations around the plants, and auditors (often in a separate location) can watch the workers. Technique and the work environment can be evaluated during a regular workday. Often times Grandin can "consult" and work out a problem with the equipment without having to be on-site.
Dr. Dee Griffin from the University of Nebraska, Great Plains Veterinary Education Center, is a feedlot production management veterinarian and professor. He also helps with the Beef Quality Assurance program in Nebraska and has been active with training producers in the program.
Griffin spoke on the impact of animal health and quality beef. The most important part of a beef production management plan is prevention.
"Prevention is key. Grandmother knew that when there were healthy babies born to healthy mothers, there's fewer chances of them getting sick," Griffin said. "At the Meat Animal Research Center out of (about) 4,000 cattle we had six die. They were not properly mothered in the first three to four hours of life."
Griffin spends a lot of time on this aspect of the production cycle and sees the correlation between the cattle getting a great start and their ability to excel and produce a quality meat product.
He said a clean environment to start the calves off in is vital. Fecal contamination can be deadly to the baby calves.
"It's no different than human babies," Griffin said. "There can be expensive mistakes."
Griffin called the feedlot business an equity business, and one that owner-operators work for a "$15 or $20 bill." If they produce an 800-pound carcass that brings $1,000, and make money on it they can drive an expensive pickup at the end of the year. However, if they spend that extra money trying to keep the cattle healthy when they are sick, the chances are they won't have the money to buy that new truck. Prevention is essential.
"You can't treat to prevent," Griffin said.
Vaccinations are important Griffin said, and the resulting immunity helps improve the bottom line because of less pulls from the feedlot pens and subsequent treatment.
"Finding a sick calf can be tough," Griffin said. "The cattle get to know you. The more time you spend with them (the easier it will be to find a sick one)."
Timing is the biggest hurdle with antibiotics. Once an animal is sick and needing treatment, the infection is likely to have already hit and time is of the essence.
The archived broadcasts of the meeting can be viewed at www.ihigh.com/barnmedia/. Look for archived broadcasts in the left-hand column, and scroll down for the two sessions: Afternoon Session*-Beef+Transparency=Trust Conference and Morning Session - Beef+Transparency=Trust Conference.
Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.