2003 Restaurant Welfare Audits of Stunning and Handling in Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Slaughter Plants

Presented at the American Meat Institute
Animal Handling and Stunning Conference

Dr. Temple Grandin
Department of Animal Science
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado U.S.A.

Fifty beef plants and 24 pork plants were audited by either first party or third party auditors from McDonald’s or Wendy’s. The scores were averaged for plants that received more than one audit. A total of nine beef plants were visited by the author to do internal audits or consult on fixing problems. A total of five pork plants were also visited by the author. This added three pork plants that were not part of a restaurant audit system which bring the total number of pork plants to 27. Data on the tables attached to this summary indicate that the plants are maintaining the excellent standards they have had since auditing started in 1999.

Ninety-one percent of the beef plants passed both the stunning audit and rendered 100% of the cattle insensible. A total of 7,950 cattle were assessed for insensibility during the audits. There were four animals that regained partial sensibility after hoisting and one cow that regained complete sensibility. They were immediately re-stunned. Ninety-one percent of the pork plants passed on both stunning wand placement and they rendered 100% of the pigs insensible. Two plants failed on insensibility due to improper stunning wand placement and the other the reason was not recorded. A total of 4900 pigs were observed.

Ninety percent of the beef plants and seventy-eight percent of the pork plants were able to move 75% or more of the animals with no electric prods. In beef, 60% of the plants used electric prods on 5% or less of the cattle. Two out of three of the plants outside a restaurant audit system failed with 100% and 90% of the pigs prodded with electric prods. A new serious problem has occurred in both beef and pork plants who were attempting to get low electric prod scores. In three (6%) beef plants and two (7%) of the pork plants, restaurant auditors observed sticks or other objects poked into sensitive parts of the animals such as the anus. This was an automatic failure of the audit. People must learn if the animal refuses to move, the electric prod can be picked up, used, and then put back down. One plant maintenance department is to be commended for inventing a non-electric prod that buzzes the cattle. It is very effective and when I tried it on my hand, it did not hurt.

Vocalization scores were excellent this year. None of the beef plants had a serious problem with over 10% of the cattle vocalizing. In one beef plant, 7% of the cattle vocalized due to sharp corners on a Kosher head holder. Removing the sharp corners would fix the problems.

Vocalizing in pigs has been reduced in many plants. None of the plants had constant squealing. One surprising finding was that a CO2 group handling system that should have had a low vocalization score had one of the worst vocalization scores. This is probably due to over crowding with fully automatic gates. These systems usually work better if a person controls the forward movement of the gate.

For both cattle and pigs, the percentage of animals falling down in the stunning area was very low. Only one beef plant and one pork plant had animals that fell. In both beef and pork plants maintenance of flooring to prevent slips and falls requires continuous vigilance. In the beef plants, 85% had excellent non-slip flooring and in the pork plants 80% had good flooring and no gaps where the pigs could fall. The rest of the plants had worn floor areas or broken parts that needed repair.

Transport Observations

It was not possible for the auditors to observe truck unloading in all of the facilities. Truck drivers were observed using an electric prod when it was not necessary on two trailers. One trailer had no side rails and pigs fell from the top deck to the bottom deck. Some plants do a wonderful job supervising the truck drivers during unloading and others do not. Most loads should be unloaded without the use of electric prods.

Transport problems received great attention this year because a large pork plant was shut down by the USDA due to truck drivers running pigs over the top of downer pigs and death losses due to trucks waiting too long to unload during hot weather. Scheduling of trucks so that pigs can be unloaded within 15 or 20 minutes is an area where some plants need to improve.

Difficult to Handle Animals

Difficult to handle animals can cause a plant to fail an audit or increase death losses in pigs. Animals that are difficult to handle are a serious welfare problem. At one plant the author scored four groups of pigs from different producers. In order to keep the line full, the handler had to use an electric prod on 10%, 7%, 50% and 10% of the pigs. The third group with the 50% prod scores failed the electric prod audit. Plant management needs to document producers who bring in either hard to handle pigs or pigs with high death losses. These problems must be corrected at the farm. Cattle that are excessively nervous or wild also need to be identified and the feedlot must correct the problem. In both cattle and pigs, lameness can make handling difficult. At one plant the author observed large numbers of lame feedlot cattle. This is clearly not acceptable.

Are Restaurant Auditors Locating All the Problems?

In beef, the author identified problems with stunning bulls and a kosher head holder that had sharp corners. These problems were not identified by the restaurant auditors because a plant can avoid stunning bulls when the auditor is present. The author recommends that in cow slaughter plants, the auditor should request to see two or three bulls stunned. In a plant that does religious slaughter, the auditors should observe use of the head holder. If religious slaughter is not being conducted that day, then the auditor should request seeing four or five cattle restrained in the head holder for regular slaughter.

In pork, the restaurant auditors identified all the problems because the pork plants do not have specialized procedures such as stunning bulls or religious slaughter that the auditor may not observe. All of the plant’s operations are available for observation.

Evaluation of Insensibility

Restaurant audits conducted during the last five years have resulted in continuous improvement. During the last two years a new, more powerful beef stunner was developed and the equipment companies have now made a test stand available for all brands of stunners. Better equipment combined with documented maintenance programs have improved stunning in the plants that are experienced with audits.

A plant can be held to a high standard but being absolutely perfect is impossible. The author recommends the following:

  1. On a single 100 animal audit by a restaurant or other customer, 100% of the animals must be rendered insensible to pass.
  2. For regulatory purposes, when hundreds of animals are observed, the author recommends keeping a running average on the percentage of animals that were insensible at hoisting that show signs of partial return to sensibility after hoisting.
  3. Completely eliminating these animals is impossible and the author recommends setting limits on this critical control point based on data collected from thousands of animals. The 2003 audit data of 7,950 cattle and 4900 pigs indicated that the following critical limits on partial return to sensibility are attainable. There were 2 partially sensible fed beef animals out of 5,675. As more data is collected these limits may need changing. My recommendation is to set the limit on partial return to sensibility in fed beef at one per 3,000.

Cull cows and bulls were a major problem. There was one fully sensible or partially sensible animal per 758 cows and bulls. In pork, out of 4900 pigs, 2 partially sensible animals were observed. It is the author’s opinion that cull cow plants need to improve. Many of the best pork plants have a return to sensibility percentage that is better. My recommendation is to set the pig limit at one per 5000.

There must be a zero tolerance for hoisting an animal that is showing any obvious signs of sensibility. There must also be a zero tolerance for skinning, scaulding, dehairing or removal of any body part on an animal that shows any sign of partial return to insensibility.

Table 1. Captive bolt stunning in 50 beef plants in the U.S. Combined scores from two different audit systems. Stunning scores averaged in plants that had more that one audit.
Percentage of cattle stunned with one shot Number of plants Percentage of plants Line Speed Range
99 to 100%
26 52% 11 to 390/hr
99 to 95%
23 46% 50 to 390/hr
Not Acceptable
94 to 90%
1 2% Under 75/hr
Serious Problem
Over 90%
0 0 0

The one plant that had a not acceptable score slaughtered cows.

Table 2. Insensibility in the bleed rail. All cattle re-stunned prior to skinning or other slaughter procedures.
Percentage of cattle rendered insensible Number of plants Percentage of plants
100% insensible (pass) 45 90%
Less than 100% insensible
Serious problem
5 10%

Four different restaurant auditors found two fed beef and three cows or bulls that were not completely insensible. The author found a bull that was breathing after she asked the plant to stun bulls. It is likely that restaurant auditors will miss bull problems because the plants may not process bulls during an audit.

Table 3. Percentage of cattle vocalizing in the 50 U.S. beef plants. Combined scores from two different auditing systems. Vocalization scores were averaged for plants with two audits.
Percentage vocalizing Number of plants Percentage of plants
0 to 1%
30 60%
2 to 3%
13 26%
Borderline Acceptable
4 to 5%
6 12%
Not Acceptable
6 to 10%
1 2%
Serious Problem
Over 10%
0 0

The one not acceptable vocalization score of over 6% occurred during Kosher slaughter. The head holding device had sharp corners that pinched the animal. Removing the sharp corner should solve this problem.

Table 4. Electric prod use in 50 beef plants. Scores from two different audit systems were averaged.
Percentage of cattle electric prodded Number of plants Percentage of plants
5 10%
5% or less
25 50%
6 to 25%
Not Acceptable
15 30%
26 to 50%
Not Acceptable
2 4%
Over 50%
Serious Problem
0 0%
*Object poked in a sensitive part of animal – Serious Problem 3 6%

*Prod score percentage not included in the percentages if an animal was poked in a sensitive part because it is not valid.

Table 5. Maintenance of flooring unloading ramps and trailers for transporting cattle.
Number of plants Percentage of plants
Excellent – no observed maintenance issues on floors or trailers 41 82%
Slick floor in plant or on unloading ramp 5 10%
Broken parts on trailers 2 4%
Holes in floors 2 4%
Deflects serious enough to fail the audit 0 0%

All plants with defects were required to take correction action.

Table 6. Electric stunner wand placement in 22 pork slaughter plants for passage of electric current through the brain. Scores from two different audit systems average. Includes three plants visited by the author that had no restaurant audits. CO2 plants are not on this table.
Percentage of pigs with correct wand placement Number of plants Percentage of plants
100% correct
15 68%
99% correct
5 23%
98 to 95%
Not Acceptable
2 9%

The two plants that were not acceptable were in a restaurant audit system.

Table 7. Electric stunner “hot wanting” where the wand is energized before it fully contacts the pig. Scored yes if pig squeals when the wand is applied. The five plants that have CO2 stunning are omitted.
Percentage of pigs hot wanded Number of plants Percentage of plants
0% hot wanded
19 86%
1% hot wanded
2 9%
2 to 3%
Not acceptable
1 5%
4% or more
Serious Problem
0 0%

Table 8. Insensibility on the bleed rail in 27 pork slaughter plants. All pigs were restunned prior to scaulding.
100% insensible pain Number of plants Percentage of plants
Less than 100% 25 93%
Serious Problem 2 7%

  1. All four plants that used CO2 rendered 100% of the pigs insensible.
  2. The one plant that had a sensible pig was found during a restaurant audit and been electrically stunned.

Table 9. Electric prod use in 27 pork slaughter plants. Scores from the two auditing systems were averaged.
Percentage of pigs electric prodded Number of plants Percentage of plants
4 15%
1 to 5%
3 11%
6 to 25%
14 52%
26 to 49%
Not Acceptable
2 7%
50% or more
Serious Problem
2 7%
Object poked in a sensitive part of the animal
Serious Problem
2 7%

  1. The two plants with group CO2 had 0% electric prod use.
  2. The two plants where a non-electrical driving aid was stuck in the anus were found during restaurant audits.
  3. The two plants with serious problem scores of 100% and 90% electric prod use were recorded by the author in two plants that were not audited by restaurants.

Table 10. Electric prod scores in one plant with four different groups of 100 pigs. The plant had well trained employees.
Percentage of pigs electric prodded Group 1 – First shift 10%
Group 2 – First shift 7%
Group 3 – Second shift – extreme heavy muscled “Bubble Butt” pigs 50%
Group 4 – Second shift 10%

The line was kept full at all times. No objects were poked in a sensitive part of the animal. Groups 1, 2, and 4 were all normal looking pigs. No extreme muscling.

Table 11. Percentage of pigs vocalizing during handling. Data from the audit systems is averaged.
Percentage of pigs vocalizing Number of plants Percentage of plants
10% or less
1 4%
11% to 49%
19 83%
50% to 69%
Not Acceptable
3 13%
Over 70%
Serious problem
0 0

  1. The data in the table is all from the two restaurant audit systems.
  2. There were 4 plants that had less than 25% of the pigs squealing. The percentage of pigs electric prodded in these plants was 6%, 4%, 10%, and 10%. The two plants with the group CO2 stunning systems that had 0% electric prod use had 52% and 42% of the pigs squealing. This was probably due to mis-use of the automatic gate. These systems are capable of having very low squealing levels.
  3. Plants with a single stunning race system in a room were compared to plants with two separate systems in the same room. Two systems enabled handling of pigs at a slower line speed. Squeal scores in plants with two systems in the same room were 30% higher. When squeal scores are being evaluated, adjustments should be made for having two stunning systems in the same room. The average scores for single systems were 28% and 38% for dual systems. Plants with dual systems should have about 30% subtracted from these scores.

Table 12. Maintenance of flooring unloading ramps and trailers for transporting pigs.
Excellent no. observed maintenance issues on floors or trailers 15 80%
Slick floors in plant or on unloading ramp 2 10%
Broken parts on ramp or trailers 0 0%
Gaps pigs can fall through 2* 10%
Detects serious enough to fail the audit 0 0%

All plants with defects were required to take corrective action.

*One trailer had no side rail and pigs fell from the top deck to the bottom deck.

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