Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach (2nd Edition)

Edited by Dr. Temple Grandin
Colorado State University, USA

ISBN: 978-1-78064-467-7
c. 368 pages
131 figures/illustrations

Subject Classifcation: KNAC, PSVP, TVH, TW
Territorial Market Rights: World
Published by CABI

Links for ordering:


Chapter 14: The effect of economic factors on the welfare of livestock and poultry.

by Temple Grandin, Colorado State University

This chapter discusses how economic factors can be influential in improving animal welfare and how economic factors can make animal welfare worse. Some of the economic factors that can bring about great improvement are welfare auditing programs by major meat buyers and holding producers and transporters economically accountable for death losses and bruises. Economic factors can make animal welfare worse when losses are passed on in highly segmented marketing chains or on a farm staffed with underpaid overworked employees.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 14...

Welfare auditing by major meat buyers

The programs that have been implemented by supermarkets and restaurants to inspect farms and slaughter facilities have resulted in great improvements in how animals are treated (Grandin, 2005, 2007a). These audits have resulted in tremendous improvements in plant facilities. The most noticeable changes are much better repair and maintenance of equipment such as stunners, races and pens. Out of 75 beef and pork plants in the USA that were on the McDonald’s approved supplier list, only three had to build totally new systems. Most plants made simple economical improvements that are discussed in Chapters 5 and 9. At three other plants, no improvements occurred until a new plant manager was hired. This shows the importance of management attitude. In the USA, most plants already had at least adequate facilities. In South America and other parts of the world, many new lairages, races and stun boxes have been built to replace poor facilities. Tesco and other supermarket buyers from Europe and McDonald’s units within each South American country demanded better animal treatment.

McDonald’s auditing programs are currently operating in the USA, Canada, South America, Australia, Asia and Europe. Large meat buyers such as McDonald’s and Tesco have brought about big welfare improvements by using their tremendous purchasing power to enforce standards. When a slaughter plant is removed from their approved supplier list, it may lose huge amounts of money. A single large US plant can lose over a million dollars if it is off the approved supplier list for a year. McDonald’s is such a large beef buyer that they purchase beef from 90% of the large or medium-sized US and Canadian plants. Socially responsible buying programs by big corporations have also brought about environmental and labor improvements. Pressure from activist groups forced the upper management of many big companies to exam in the substandard practices of their suppliers.

The author had the opportunity to take upper management people from many different companies on their first trips to farms and slaughter plants. When things were going well, they were happy and when they saw abuses, they became highly motivated to make improvements happen. The executives had to see bad practices with their own eyes to get them to make changes. One executive became really motivated to improve conditions after he saw an emaciated, sick, old dairy cow going into his hamburger. Animal welfare became real and was no longer an abstract concept that was delegated to the public relations or legal department. It is essential to get high-level executive out of the office so they can see bad practices to motivate them to change.

Make Producers and Transporters Financially Accountable for Bruises, Poor Meat Quality, Nonambulatory Animals, and Death Losses

Bruises on slaughter cattle were reduced greatly when producers or transporters had to pay for them. In the USA, payment programs where bruises and other losses were deducted from producer payments greatly improved cattle treatment during transport to the plant. Grandin (1981) found that when producers had to pay for bruises, bruising was reduced by half. Paranhos da Costa et al. (2012, 2014) in Brazil reported that when supermarkets audited bruises and made deductions from transporters pay, bruising was reduced from 20% to 1% of the cattle. Bruises cause severe economic losses and large portions of the meat have to be removed from severely bruised carcasses (Fig. 14.1). Carmen Gallo in Chile also reported that bruises were reduced when transporters were fined for damage to the animals (Grandin and Gallo, 2007). In another case, problems with weak pigs that were too fatigued to walk off the truck or move to the stunner were reduced greatly when producers were fined US $20 for each fatigued pig. Producers reduced nonambulatory and weak pigs by decreasing greatly the dose of the beta-agonist, ractopamine (Paylean®). This feed additive makes pigs big and lean, and too high a dose may increase the percentage of nonambulatory pigs. Use objective methods for assessing handling and transport losses Vague guidelines that use terms such as “adequate space" or "proper handling" are impossible to implement because one person’s interpretation of proper handling will be different from someone else’s. Loading and unloading of trucks and moving animals through vaccination races should be measured with numerical scoring of variables, such as the percentage of animals that fall, the percentage of animals that are prodded with an electric goad, and the percentage that move faster than a trot. Moving at a walk is preferable. For more information, see Grandin (1998a, 2007, 2013), Maria et al. (2004), and Chapters 2 and 4, this volume. Alvaro Barros-Restano (2006, personal communication) reported that in auction markets in Uruguay, continuous monitoring has improved handling greatly. Handling practices need to be measured continuously to prevent them from gradually becoming increasingly rough. Measures of death losses, nonambulatory animals, bruises, injuries, pale soft meat in pigs, and dark cutting dark firm and dry (DFD) beef should be used to provide either bonuses or deductions from transporter or in good stockmanship can increase milk production (Sorge et al., 2014). Unfortunately, 50% of dairy managers were not interested in more stockmanship training (Sorge et al., 2014). It is difficult for some people to understand fully that animal behavior is important. Stockmanship is also an excellent way to reduce accidents.

The author has also used the safety of people as a major selling tool to eliminate live shackling and hoisting of animals by one back leg in US slaughter plants. Douphrate et al. (2009) studied 10 years of worker injury data in the USA. Accidents while handling cattle were a major cause of severe debilitating injuries that required costly medical care. In Australia, the most common of injuries to veterinarians was being kicked or struck by cattle (Lucas et al., 2013). In the USA, shackling and hoisting is still legal due to religious exemptions. When a veal calf slaughter plant replaced shackling and hoisting with an upright restraint for kosher slaughter, there was a huge reduction in accidents. For an 18-month period, before installation of the upright restrainer, there were 126 working days of lost time due to accidents involving employees being kicked or trolleys falling on them. Three workers were absent for more than 3 weeks. After the shackle hoist was replaced with the restrainer, during the next 18-month period one employee was absent for 2 days due to a bruised hand (Grandin, 1988).

Reduce labor requirements with animal-welfare-friendly equipment

The author designed and installed many innovative cattle-handling systems that were sold to plant and feedlot management as a way to reduce labor costs. Half the cattle in the USA and Canada are handled in a restrainer system designed by the author (Grandin, 2003). When the author presented her proposal for a totally new handling system at a slaughter plant, many managers bought the system because one or two full-time employees could be removed. The cost savings of reducing labour requirements, improving meat quality, reducing accidents, and reducing bruises were all put on the proposal to emphasize how much money they could save. In Uruguay, cattle are restrained for religious slaughter by three or four employees, who hold them down. Replacing the highly stressful method of restraint with better equipment would improve both animal welfare and employee safety. It would also reduce labor requirements.

Increase the economic value of cull animals

Some of the worst abuses the author has observed in transported animals were animals that were not fit for transport. They were treated badly because they were worth very little money. Emaciated, weak, old cows, sow or ewes should be euthanized on the farm and not loaded on to a vehicle. Published materials for assessing body condition, lameness, and injuries should be used (see Chapters 2 and 4, this volume). The use of pictures and videos to make assessment of the animal’s condition more objective is strongly recommended. Livestock quality assurance schemes in many countries have excellent materials for assessing fitness for travel. When programs are implemented and producers receive more money for cows that are in better condition, they will be motivated to sell their cull animals before they become emaciated (Roeber et al., 2001). In the USA, there are several successful programs for improving the value of cull cows. They are fed in a feedlot for 60-90 days to improve meat quality, to make the meat more valuable.

Promote the use of livestock identification and trace-back

In much of the developed world, animals are required to be identified with either an individual identification number or the identity of their farm of origin. Animal identification makes it possible to trace animals back to the farm of origin, which enables customers to determine where their meat comes from. Trace-back also makes it easier to hold producers and transporters accountable for losses.

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