Temple Grandin’s Reason for Eating Animals?: “I get lightheaded . . . if I go on a vegan diet.”

Temple Grandin is widely considered to be a leading authority on animal welfare. She’s routinely cited by organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States and Whole Foods as an expert on the humane treatment of animals. Grandin, of course, designs slaughterhouses, but I guess the term “welfare” is pretty plastic. Not unlike “humane.”

I’ve read Grandin’s books. While I find her affection for animals to be genuine, and her insight into their perspectives nuanced, her work strikes me as remarkably unthoughtful about the human-animal relationship. Her books plod, important contexts dissolve, her thinking feels mechanistic. I’m well aware that Grandin is autistic, and I admire her accomplishments in light of such adversity. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that her analysis of animal welfare can be cold, shallow, and unpleasant. Kind of like an ice bath.

Grandin wrote an essay for the Times now famous/infamous/notorious “Justify Eating Meat” contest. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist–and I think you’ll see why. Her essay is worth reading, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves how troublesome the idea of “welfare” can be. Interestingly, when Grandin found out her essay was not chosen, she published it in a beef industry trade magazine. She obviously knows who her friends are.

Temple Grandin’s essay:

Eating Meat is Ethical

Humans and animals evolved together. Our brains are tuned into animals. Research with epilepsy patients who had monitors implanted in their brains, showed that the amygdala responds more to animal pictures, compared to pictures of landmarks or people. The amygdala is an important emotion center in the brain. Pictures of both cute and aversive animals got a big response. Recordings from the hippocampus, which is involved with memory, had no differences.

Human beings have an intrinsic bond with animals, but our treatment of animals has ranged from respectful to horrendous. Scientific research indicates that animals have emotions and they feel pain and fear. It is our duty to provide the animals that we raise for food with a decent life. I often get asked, “How can you care about animals and be involved in designing systems in slaughter houses that are used to kill them?” I answered this question in 1990, after I had just completed installation of a new piece of equipment I had designed for handling cattle at slaughter plants. I was standing on a catwalk, as hundreds of cattle passed below to enter my system. In a moment of insight, I thought, none of the cattle going into my system would have existed unless people had bred and raised them.

Our relationship with the cattle should be symbiotic. Symbiosis is a biological concept of a mutually beneficial relationship between two different species. There are many examples of symbiosis or mutualism in nature. One example is ants tending aphids to obtain their sugary secretion and in return, they are protected from predators. Unfortunately the relationship is not always symbiotic and in some cases, the ants exploit the aphids. There are similar problems in poorly managed, large intensive agriculture systems. There are some production practices that must be changed. In the cattle industry, I know many people who are true stewards of both their animals and their land. Their relationship with both the animals and the land is truly symbiotic. It is mutually beneficial to both the animals and the environment. Killing animals for food is ethnical if the animals have what the Farm Animal Welfare Council in England calls a life worth living.

I have been attended grazing conferences and I have learned that when grazing is done right it can improve the rangeland and sequester carbon. Ruminant animals that eat grass are not the environmental wreckers that some people say they are. Rotational grazing can stimulate more plant growth and growing plants help remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Ruminant animals, such as cattle, bison, goats, and sheep, are the only way to grow food on rangelands that are not suitable for crops.  Ronald C. Follett with the USDA-ARS-NPA in Fort Collins, Colorado, states that grazing lands have the potential to sequester carbon.  According to researchers at National University in Panama, converting South American pastureland to soybean production will reduce carbon storage. Organic agriculture would be impossible and extremely difficult without animal manure for fertilizer.  Another issue that must be looked at in perspective is methane emissions.  It is likely that 80% of all total methane emissions come from coal burning power plants, rice paddies, and landfills.

I have a final reason why I think eating meat is ethnical.  My metabolism requires animal protein, and I get lightheaded and unable to concentrate if I go on a vegan diet.  There may be metabolic differences in the need for animal protein.  There are practices that must be changed to be true stewards of both the animals and the environment.


McFib: HSUS Goes after McDonald’s “Epic Story”


Perhaps you’ve heard the news: the McRib is back! “Even your dreams dream about this,” says McDonald’s about the return of this “fantastically flavorful,” “sweetly scrumptious,” “sensationally savory” pork sandwich.  Further distinguishing the McRib is the implication that the pork comes from happy pigs raised under humane and sustainable conditions.  McDonald’s buys its pork from Smithfield Foods, which employs Dr. Temple Grandin as an animal welfare advisor and, perhaps as a result, brands itself as “100 percent committed to . . . animal care.” In an outburst of appreciation for the work Smithfield does, McDonald’s recently recognized the Virginia-based company with a “supplier sustainability” award.[http://www.smithfieldfoods.com/our_company/about_us.aspx]

But the Humane Society of the United States isn’t celebrating.  Earlier today HSUS filed a legal complaint with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Smithfield is misleading consumers about its welfare practices. [http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/smithfield_sec_complaint110211.pdf] In a series of videos titled “Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production,” Smithfield contends that its animals are raised under “ideal” conditions in an environment where “every need is met.” A 2010 undercover HSUS investigation, however, revealed information altogether to the contrary.   [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK9tUYkRh2Q]

HSUS found that Smithfield pigs were living in hellish conditions where basic needs were systematically denied. Female pigs were stuffed into Gestation crates, preventing movement for most of their lives; many crates were coated in blood from the mouths of pigs chewing the metal bars of their crates; a sick pig was shot in the head with a captive bolt gun and thrown into a dumpster while still alive; prematurely born piglets routinely fell through the gate’s slats into a manure pit; castration and tail docking took place without anesthesia; and employees tossed baby pigs into carts as if they were stuffed animals. The investigator saw many lame pigs but never a vet.     [http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2010/12/smithfield_pigs_121510.html}

The curious thing is that both McDonald’s and Smithfield know that gestation crates are bad news for a pig. Temple Grandin, as an advisor to Smithfield, declared that the crates “have to go,” and in 2007 Smithfield agreed to phase out the crates by 2017. The company has since rescinded this promise.  In a company video, McDonald’s admitted that group housing “is best for the welfare and well-being of those sows.” None of this has been lost on Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection at HSUS. “It doesn’t take a veterinarian to know that locking a 500-pound animal in a cage so cramped she can’t even turn around for on end isn’t exactly ‘ideal,’” he explains. McDonald’s, he adds, “should heed the advice of its own animal welfare advisors and dump gestation crates from its supply chain.”

In the meantime (actually, for all time), the rest of us should just say no to the McRib.