Animal handling and stunning in U.S. beef and pork packing plants has shown continued improvements, according to data collected by animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, assistant professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

Grandin collected the data during audits sponsored by McDonald's Corporation to ensure proper handling in plants supplying the restaurant chain. In compiling the data, the McDonald's audit team visited 49 federally inspected beef plants in 12 states and 19 federally inspected pork plants in eight states, according to an American Meat Institute Foundation news release.

In 1996, Grandin wrote objective criteria endorsed by AMIF in its Good Management Practices for Animal Handling and Stunning that help to evaluate animal handling and stunning in plants. The AMIF GMPs encourage plants to monitor factors like the number of times livestock slip or fall; how frequently livestock vocalize (which can indicate stress); and how successful the stunner operator is in making an animal insensible to pain with a single shot of a stunner.

According to her 2000 audit, the average first shot stunning efficacy rate in beef cattle was 97.87 percent. In pork plants, 17 of the 19 plants induced instant insensibility in pigs. Problems identified in two of the 19 plants were corrected, according to Grandin.

In 2000, 80 percent of the beef plants passed the vocalization audit with three percent of cattle vocalizing. In 1999, 71 percent of the plants passed. None of the plants received a "serious problem" rating, which is assigned when more than 10 percent of cattle vocalize.

According to Grandin, improvements in pig handling have greatly reduced squealing during handling of pigs. Her data show that 94 percent of plants had acceptable or excellent levels of squealing compared to 73 percent in 1999.

Also this year, 45 percent of beef plants received excellent scores on electric prod use - scores given when zero to five percent of cattle are prodded. Sixty-eight percent of plants had eliminated the use of electric prods in the crowd pen. Four plants had completely eliminated electric prods in the entire system. Grandin has promoted alternatives to the use of prods, like sticks with grocery bags that rustle and large flags which prompt animals to move forward without causing pain or stress.

Notably, Grandin found limited differences in scores during announced or surprise audits. In 1999, when auditing first began, Grandin found much greater differences. Based on her findings, Grandin suggested a number of improvements in plants, including improving flooring to eliminate slippage in stunning boxes, which can complicate stunning; redesigning noisy gates that frighten cattle causing them to balk; using caution not to overload equipment and improving pig stunning procedures through workstation and stunner redesign and modifications to slaughter procedures.

Grandin attributes the continued improvements she has observed to a number of factors. First, industry customers like McDonald's Corp. have made animal welfare a top priority. In an effort to respond to customer concerns, meat companies have embraced handling and stunning training and the concept of self-audits - actions which translate into documented improvements.

"Efforts to improve animal handling and stunning in packing plants are good for animals and good for plants," Grandin said. "Humane handling is simply 'the right thing,' but it also has product quality and worker safety benefits."

"Management commitment to welfare programs is key if we are to sustain the type of continuous improvement as we have seen in the last few years," she added.

Grandin's complete data is posted at http://www.grandin.com.

American Meat Institute Foundation

http://www.grandin.com