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Temple Grandin: Helping the Animals We Can’t Save

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Temple Grandin: Helping the Animals We Can't Save by Ingrid Newkrik

futureharvestcasa.org / CC

This month, HBO is premiering an original biopic starring Claire Danes about an extraordinary person, Dr. Temple Grandin. As a young woman, Grandin struggled with the isolating challenges of autism at a time when this disorder was almost a total mystery. Today she is one of the best-known advocates for autism education.

But I applaud Dr. Grandin for another reason, one that has angered some people who work in animal protection: I admire her work in the field of humane animal slaughter. PETA would prefer, of course, that no animals be killed for food, but we won’t ignore the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses just because we wish that they didn’t exist.

Throughout her career as an animal-science professor at Colorado State University and a consultant to the American Meat Institute, Grandin has worked to improve animal-handling systems at slaughterhouses-markedly decreasing, although never able to stop completely, the amount of fear and pain that animals experience.

In 2006, she described to National Public Radio her experience watching cattle get vaccinated at feedlots during the 1970s. Some of the animals would just walk into the holding chutes, she said, while others refused. So Grandin did what no one else had bothered to do before: She went into the chutes herself. As she wrote in an essay for my book One Can Make a Difference, “(I)t seemed obvious to me to get down into the chute and see what the cattle were seeing.” She realized that visual details such as shadows, a reflection off a truck’s bumper, or people standing up ahead were causing the animals to be fearful.

These insights led her to design cattle-restraining systems that are now used by half the meat plants in North America. “(P)eople just wanted to get out there and yell and scream and push and shove,” Grandin told NPR, rather than “remove the things that the cattle were afraid of.”

This may seem like a small victory-the cows are still going to be killed, after all-but until the day that we get animals off the dinner plate altogether, is it too much to ask that we do everything we can to reduce the fear and suffering that they experience in the slaughterhouse?

PETA’s campaigns against the cruel practices of fast-food chains and against the use of intensive confinement systems that do not even allow animals enough room to stand up, turn around, or extend their limbs have improved the living and dying conditions for millions of animals. As the industries change and evolve, these improvements will apply to billions of animals every year.

The vast majority of people, if they care about animals-and consumer surveys show that they do-support such incremental changes, even if the increments are far from wholly satisfactory to the animals who would rather not be caged at all or hung upside down and killed. In November 2008, for example, California voters made history by approving a ballot measure to ban the use of veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages on factory farms. Last year, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a landmark bill that will phase out these same cruel devices in her state as well.

I completely understand the appeal of battle cries such as “Not bigger cages-empty cages!” and I encourage every kind soul who shares this sentiment to make a difference by going vegan. But, as Dr. Grandin has shown us, giving a little comfort and relief to animals who will be in those cages their whole lives is worth fighting for, even as some of us are demanding that those cages be emptied.’

This post originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.

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    kerry says...

    February 14th, 2010, 1:10 pm

    Temple was an expert witness on our side in the tasered cow lawsuit whereby my mother (Chris Anderlik) and Bellingham lawyer Adam Karp accused the County Sheriff’s office of animal cruelty for using their tasers to kill an escaped calf. The case made it all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court. You can read about it by googling “tasered calf. chris anderlik. adam Karp”. In the news articles Temple is not mentioned by name, but she is referred to as one of the experts who “said it was inhumane to use tasers to kill the animal.”

    robin says...

    February 16th, 2010, 7:08 pm

    Thanks to your mother and the lawyer for standing up for that poor calf, and for justice.

    Amanda says...

    February 19th, 2010, 6:07 pm

    Ditto. Great work!

    Amen Sigala says...

    February 26th, 2010, 12:19 am

    Did I read correctly !!!? The Sheriff Office for Animal Cruelity tassered & killed an escaped calf???? What the hell ! What were they thinking ???!

    So good to hear they were put in their place….!

    Jo says...

    March 5th, 2010, 12:24 am

    It’s a good thing that Grandin has helped relieve some suffering for factory farm animals. But, Grandin supports animal slaughter. She is on the McDonald’s website and she praised McDonald’s as improving animal welfare. Also, Grandin has published studies about using genetics to make pigs less stressed out.

    Grandin is a part of the factory farming meat industry. She has not condemned the actual system of factory farming. She even jokes in one of her books about sexually stimulating confined male pigs to extract their semen. Basically, she is amused by pigs being molested by factory farming personnel.

    I do not applaud Grandin at all. She should recommend that the meat industry use more humane methods. But, that’s just basic moral decency on her part as an animal scientist. In truth, her work is very dangerous. She is promoting the idea that there is a humane method for doing factory farming. And, this is clearly false.

    To praise McDonald’s, which Grandin does, is disgusting. McDonalds and other fast food chains have created the demand that make confining millions of pigs the norm nowadays. How could Grandin praise them? It’s so disturbing.

    These animals are in crates for long months or years. Never seeing the light of day and becoming so emotionally abused that they live every minute of their life in despair. These animals have become dead inside.

    If Grandin really had any sense of compassion, she would not publish studies to eliminate “porcine stress” due to abuse. This means that she wants to eliminate the gene in pigs that responds to abuse. She wants “calm” pigs that are compliant with abusive conditions. Yes, this is the type of work that Grandin does. Grandin, instead, should be advocating the end of all factory farming. In light of the fact that Grandin has seen the horror of factory farming herself, she should be informing the public of the intense animal abuse that she sees done daily.

    There is no such thing as humane factory farming or humane slaughter. The danger here is that Grandin is promoting this idea, and being applauded for doing so.

    Would the Nazi concentration camps be more humane if there were methods that allowed the Jews to die with a tad bit less fear. This is what is being applauded. And, Grandin goes further by advocating for gene manipulation to reduce the ability for the animals to even feal fear. Now, these animals can be less like living creatures…more deadened. Just how the meat industry wants them to be.

    R Welti says...

    March 12th, 2010, 2:17 am

    I’m sorry, I can’t agree with Ingrid Newkirk on this, and I am close to withdrawing my support of PETA over it.

    This woman claims her autism gives her some kind of insider claim to better empathize with animals. How dare she? When the everyday, gentle, garden-variety animal lover is labeled a “nutcase animal rights activist” if he or she claims any kind of understanding of animal feelings or to know that animals want to live?

    That’s similar to saying a gay person has an insider claim to interior design.

    Or a blind person can magically smell and sense things your or I could never hope to.

    I am gay and I have a blind friend, and both of the above are just myths and stereotypes. ;-) The “sensitive” autistic person, what a godsend for the meat industry and fast food chains. Some kind of Horse Whisperer (forgive the ugly image) who can channel animal feelings — yep she’s their elected (well paid) spokesperson. Ick.

    Yes I understand what Ingrid is saying above, but I do not agree. I don’t know for sure, but I read that Ingrid said this: ” Temple Grandin has done more to reduce suffering in the world than any other person who has ever lived.” or something very close to that. I guess my small contribution won’t be missed then.

    Bernard Pacj says...

    March 12th, 2010, 4:23 am

    I understand what Ingrid Newkirk is saying, but politically I think she has made a big mistake by saying it. I can imagine the meat industry now using her comments to help ease the minds of the meat eaters who previously had doubts about eating meat. Big tactical error.

    cath says...

    March 22nd, 2010, 12:50 pm

    Temple Grandin may think it is better to work with the meat industry, slaughter houses et al. But it all still misses one important point …no matter how “softly” they go to slaughter, how gently they are raised – “they” are still breathing, feeling, sentient beings and “we” have no good excuse to kill them, except we like to fill our bellies with their flesh. Temple Grandin, I don’t think so!

    cath says...

    March 22nd, 2010, 12:54 pm

    addendum: how odd that you have long-time great campaigner and veggie (Paul McCartney) on the same “celebrating kind choices” on the same page as Temple Grandin – McCartney – there is someone who deserves our praise!

    SADIE says...

    August 17th, 2010, 4:46 pm

    Temple Grandin is brilliant. I’m sure PETA does allot of good work but some of their antics make them a joke. The Prez swatting a fly! please! that was ridiculous. be realistic. people are going to eat meat. you can’t cut anyone any slack if they even eat cage free animals who are killed humanely? that’s not enough? I’m pretty liberal but I would never join Peta.

    Marilyn says...

    August 29th, 2010, 10:37 pm

    I agree with Jo.

    Margarita says...

    September 6th, 2010, 10:47 pm

    This is definitely so appalling, to think that Peta would consider a person like this worthy of recognition.

    Margarita says...

    September 6th, 2010, 10:54 pm

    Regarding Sadie’s comment, I think that it is always best to eat less meat or no meat at all, it is good for the animals and also for our health in general. But of course that it is unrealistic because most people don’t want to give up their meat eating and also a lot of people don’t really care about the plight of the animals.

    Rosemary says...

    November 1st, 2010, 3:11 am

    Ingrid’s article about Temple Grandin is about facing reality. If Grandin tried the “other approaches” mentioned above she would have as much success at ending the meat industry existence as PETA. Until there are no more customers, there will be meat for sale. In the meantime, what are you doing RIGHT NOW to help ease the suffering of the millions of animals that Ms Grandin has helped? Those of you above bashing Ms Grandin are the reason most people think PETA members are crack pots. You need to find a way to work with the current situation. Sticking your head in the stand and expecting massive change (instead of incremental change) is ignorant. Look at the Declaration of Independence: some of the signers wanted to include abolishing slavery. Had they not eliminated that part, it would have never passed. Eventually slavery was abolished. One fight at a time. She is easing the suffering of these animals. Step one.

    Cyndi says...

    November 4th, 2010, 7:48 pm

    Rosemary is right…and FYI instead of just worrying about animals, learn a little about autism and Asperger’s disorder before you judge Temple…she see’s things different she realizes these animals are going to be slaughtered one way or another autism more so the Asperger’s part of the spectrum is that they see things as fact…it is FACT animals will be slaughtered.. at least she is making their final days calm..you have to realize she sees death differently than neuro typical people. Ask yourselves what are you doing on a large scale to help animals? Are you thinking out of the box? she has helped HALF the cattle in the industry for years…you can’t look down on that.

    reason_over_ideology says...

    December 18th, 2010, 6:44 pm

    Cyndi said it quite well. Because of Grandin’s autism, she views her environment and processes things quite differently than neurotypical people (meaning, those not on the autistic spectrum).
    While normal factory workers and consultants couldn’t understand why their cattle refused to enter building, Grandin figured out that the animals didn’t like that they were temporarily unable to see. It was very bright outside and much more dim inside; once she fixed that problem, the cattle didn’t have an issue.
    She’s not intuiting the feelings of animals, like R Welti ignorantly claimed (and then slammed her for doing). As both an individual and as an ethical vegan, I support Grandin’s work.
    Yes, animals will still die. Yes, I think it is wrong. But would I rather they live as comfortably and humanely as I think they should and then be killed as painlessly as possible, than to suffer throughout their lives for no other reason than stupidity, ignorance, laziness, and greed. Good job, Ingrid Newkirk, and good job, PETA. This is one of the most balanced and *realistic* publications by your organization that I have read.

    nancy says...

    December 20th, 2010, 12:21 am

    I just want everyone to imagine your are an animal in a factory farm. Your existence can be improved slightly. Currently, you are so confined you cannot turn over or move your body. Do you want people to give you more room so you can move? Or do you want people to cling to their ideals and not improve your situation until the perfect world comes when people no longer do this to animals? When it’s time for your killing, do you want it to be in the most painful way because there are people out there who don’t want you to be killed at all – so they won’t help your death be easier for you? Or do you want to be killed in a way that causes less suffering? We can still work toward an ideal world while helping animals in their present circumstances.

    nancy says...

    December 20th, 2010, 12:25 am

    I just want to add I’m a vegan and I want the world to be vegan but we all know that will not happen on this day Dec. 19, 2010 and we all know about the animals suffering on this day. If we could lessen it, it’s our moral obligation as we continue to try to end these circumstances altogether.

    elsie says...

    June 22nd, 2012, 2:01 am

    Only this evening I watched Temple Grandin, the film starring Claire Danes. I am so glad to be vegan and not be supporting the beef or dairy industries, but having said that, I feel torn about which argument I agree with here. Jo’s argument is brilliant but Nancy’s argument is brilliant too. In the end I think I have to agree that while the majority of people still desire to eat meat, Grandin’s designs would make these animals’ final hours less stressful which cannot be a bad thing. I wish with all my soul that animals no longer be consumed for their flesh but until that day comes, we have the responsibility to make their lives and deaths as painless as possible. If we hold out for the perfect ideal, and in the meantime, do nothing, they will only continue to suffer which is the last thing vegans want to see. I hope this all makes sense. I’m glad I put it in writing.

    Alex says...

    September 21st, 2013, 7:42 pm

    Yes i eat meat but i do want the animals to go through as little pain as possible. They dont go through pain the method they use is 99% just a quick shot. What i hate is the places that dont care about humane part

    Sarah says...

    July 21st, 2014, 5:09 pm

    I am with Elsie.

    Jana says...

    November 1st, 2014, 8:57 pm

    I too agree with Ingrid and Elsie. We need to do what we can NOW. Temple is a blessing for the animals—imagine the suffering before she came along. As we look forward to (or wish for) total vegetarianism and murderless meat, we need to create the safest, least stressful lives for factory-bred creatures :(

    Amanda says...

    November 25th, 2014, 9:33 pm

    I agree with Rosemary. If I were an animal heading for slaughter, I would want to go to a facility that was designed by Temple Grandin. Granted, I would NOT want to die in the first place, but if it’s going to happen anyway PLEASE give me the CO2 chamber. The protesters and vegans outside who were protesting my death – although very very important in their own right – would not give me much comfort in my final hour, I imagine :(

    Amanda says...

    November 25th, 2014, 9:57 pm

    Also, it is helpful to think of more humane slaughter methods not as a compromise, but as progress that will eventually lead to the goal of no more animals eaten. Soon, humane slaughter will be the standard and animal suffering will stick out like a sore thumb. It will no longer be acceptable for 1 animal out of 100 to remain conscious at slaughter (as it is now) and it will be fixed. After that, people will focus on the next-worst-thing and so on and so forth, until we come to the point where NO animal suffering is acceptable – which will mean no more raising animals for meat. It will happen. Look at us today and how far animals rights has come in 50 years! But it will not happen overnight.

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