The Effect of Economics on the Welfare of Cattle, Pigs, Sheep, and Poultry
By Temple Grandin
Department of Animal Sciences
Colorado State University
(Updated April 2013)
During a career spanning over 35 years, the author has learned to understand more and more how economic forces can be used to improve animal welfare. Economic incentives to treat animals better can be very effective. One huge positive force for improving animal welfare is that consumers are demanding that animals be treated better. Corporations, both large and small, can be motivated to improve practices when consumers demand it.
All of the things the author recommends are based on either scientific papers, first-hand experience implementing welfare auditing programs, observations during extensive travel to many countries, or research and interviews with other individuals who have implemented effective programs. In the first section of this chapter, the effects of economic factors on improving animal welfare will be covered. The second half of the chapter will cover economic factors that are detrimental to good animal welfare.
Economic Factors Which Can Bring About Improvements in Animal Welfare
- Alliances Between Producers and Meat Companies – In these systems, ranchers and farmers produce animals which must meet specific requirements for animal welfare, food safety, and other requirements. The rapidly growing markets in organic and natural meats have created alliance systems where standards can be enforced. Producers are often eager to join these programs in order to get higher prices. Many of these programs emphasize local production of the meat, milk or eggs.
- 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, 2007a, 2005). 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 U.S. that were on the McDonald’s approved supplier list, only three had to build totally new systems. Most plants made simple economical improvements. More information is available on www.grandin.com. There were five basic areas where improvements were made:
- Training employees in behavioral principles of animal handling.
- Better maintenance of stunners and other equipment.
- Installation of non-slip flooring in stunning boxes and unloading ramps.
- Removing distractions that make animals balk and refuse to move such as reflections on shiny metal, seeing people up ahead, air blowing into the faces of approaching animals, or changes in the color or texture of flooring. Adding indirect illumination to light up a dark race or stun box entrance to attract the animals in.
- Adding solid panels so animals do not see moving people or equipment as they approach the stunner.
At three other plants, no improvements occurred until a new plant manager was hired. This shows the importance of management attitude. In the U.S., 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 McDonalds units within each South American country demanded better animal treatment.
McDonald’s auditing programs are currently operating in the U.S., 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 U.S. plant can lose over a million dollars if it is off the approved supplier list for a year. McDonalds is such a large beef buyer that they purchase beef from 90% of the large or medium-sized U.S. and Canadian plants. Socially responsible buying programs by big corporations have also brought about environmental and labor improvements. Pressure from activitist groups forced the upper management of many big companies to examine the substandard practices of their suppliers.
I 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 abstraction that was delegated to the public relations or legal department. It is essential to get high level executives 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, Non-ambulatory Animals, and Death Losses – Bruises on slaughter cattle were greatly reduced when producers or transporters had to pay for them. In the U.S., payment programs where bruises and other losses are deducted from producer payments greatly improved cattle treatment during transport to the plant. Grandin (1981) found that when producers had to pay for bruises, they were reduced by half. Parennas de Costa (personal communication, 2007) in Brazil reported that when supermarkets audited bruises and made deductions from transporters pay, bruising was reduced from 20% to 1% of the cattle. Carmen Gallo in Chile has 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 greatly reduced when producers were fined $20 for each fatigued pig. Producers reduced non-ambulatory and weak pigs by greatly decreasing 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 non-ambulatory pigs.
- Use Objective Methods for Assessing Handling and Transport Losses – Vague guidelines which 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 somebody 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, percentage electric prodded, and the percentage that move faster than a trot. Moving at a walk is preferable. For more information, see (Grandin, 1998a, 2007b, and Maria et al., 2004) and www.grandin.com. Alvaro Barros-Restano (personal communication, 2006) reported that in auction markets in Uruguay, continuous monitoring has greatly improved handling. Handling practices need to be continuously measured to prevent them from gradually becoming more rough. Measures of death losses, non-ambulatory animals, bruises, injuries, pale soft meat in pigs, and dark cutting DFD in beef should be used to provide either bonuses or deductions from transporter or producer pay. In many countries, there is a large payment deduction for meat quality defects such as DFD in cattle.
- Improving Meat Quality is an Incentive for Improving Animal Treatment – When the author first started working with pork slaughter plants in the early 1980’s, the handling of pigs was terrible and every pig was shocked multiple times with an electric goad. In the late 80’s, the U.S. started exporting pork to Japan and the Japanese grader who worked in the plant rejected pale, soft meat that had PSE (Pale Soft Exudative). The author visited many different plants and stopped the excessive use of electric goads in the race that lead up to the stunner. The next day, 10% more pork was suitable for export to Japan because it was not pale soft and watery due to rough handling. This provided a motivation to handle pigs more carefully. Today several research studies clearly how that how the pigs are handled the last few minutes in the stunning chute has a big effect on pork quality. Excitement and electric goad use in the stunning race increases PSE (Hambrechet et al., 2005; Elliott et al., 2009; Grandin, 1985). One study in feedlot cattle showed that cattle that have a large flight zone and become agitated when people approach, have tougher meat (Gruber et al., 2006). An earlier study done by Voisinet et al., (1997) also found that excitable cattle have tougher meat and more dark cutters.
- Improving Animal Welfare Makes Livestock Handling Safer – The author convinced many slaughter plants, feedlots, and farms to improve cattle handling to reduce accidents and injuries to people. Marcos Zapiola in South America has used the same approach to promote quiet handling methods. The author also used safety for people as a major selling tool to eliminate live shackling and hoisting of animals by one back leg in U.S. slaughter plants. In the U.S., shackling and hoisting is still legal due to religious exemptions. When a Vcal 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 accidents due to employees being kicked or trolleys falling on them. Three workers were absent for more than three weeks. After the shackle hoist was replaced with the restrainer during the next 18 months period, one employee was absent for two 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 U.S. and Canada are handled in a restrainer system designed by the author. When the author presented her proposal for a totally new handling system at a slaughter plant, many mangers bought the system because one or two full-time employees could be removed. The cost savings of reducing labor requirements, improving meat quality, reducing accidents, and reducing bruises were all put on the proposal to emphasize how much money they could save.
- Increase the Economic Value of Cull Animals – Some of the worst abuses I have 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 onto a vehicle. Published materials for assessing body condition, lameness and injuries should be used. 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 U.S., there are several successful programs for improving the value of cull cows. They are fed in a feedlot for 60 to 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. Traceback makes it easier to hold producers an transporters accountable for losses.
- Educator Consumers About Animal Welfare – In the developed world, people are becoming more and more concerned about where their food is coming from. Many consumers may stop buying meat from animals transported long distances or badly treated. When consumers are educated, they are willing to buy more socially responsible products. This method can be very effective with affluent consumers. In the U.S. and Europe, there are expanding markets for local artisan cheese makers and other suppliers of meat, milk, or eggs that are raised with high welfare standards. In the U.K., the sales of products that were produced under fair trade agreements rose 70% in 2007 (The Independent, 2008)
- In Developing Countries, Develop Local Slaughter and Dairy Product Processing Facilities with Experienced Management – In many countries there is a need for high quality, small local slaughter plants in areas where animals are raised. Efforts by the government to build local slaughter plants have failed in some countries because the government did not provide funds to hire experienced managers to operate them. There are many rusting hulks throughout the developing world where this mistake has been made. Some of these plants contained equipment that was too expensive and difficult for local people to maintain. Efforts in building producer-owned cooperative plants have had mixed results. The successful coops have clauses in their legal documents to prevent a few producers from buying too big of a portion and then selling out, and leaving the others at the mercy of a new plant owner who is no longer legally bound by the original coop agreements. I have witnessed this sad fate for two large cooperatives in the U.S. Successful, cooperative plants must have a strong highly experienced leader and legal documents that will prevent one ro two producers from taking over and doing things that are detrimental to other producer members. Fighting between producer board members has destroyed some coops.
- Hire and Train Experienced People Who Know How to Implement Practical Solutions and Pay Them Well – There is a tremendous need for more educated, experienced people to work on hands-on practical things. They need to have both scientific, knowledge, and hands-on experience to bridge the gap between making policy and successfully applying it. In the U.S. there are not enough students who want to become large animal veterinarians (NIAA, 2007). There are similar concerns in Europe. Programs need to be developed to expose young students to farm animals an economic incentives should be use to encourage students to go into careers that will help animal welfare and sustainable agriculture. Policies and legislation are useless unless there are practical people on the ground who can implement them. Input from practical field researchers will help create policy and legislation that will work. In many fields there is a shortage of people to work in the “trenches” and make real constructive change. This has happened in many fields ranging from medicine to agriculture. I urge governments, NGO animal activitist groups, and livestock companies to support and educate skilled field workers and researchers. These people are essential to make real change and improvements take place.
In some developed countries, there is a shortage of qualified truck drivers. Hands-on jobs such as truck driver and animal handler need to receive more recognition and pay. The author has observed effective programs where handling improved when employees received training, better supervision, higher pay, and recognition with a special animal welfare emblem for their hats. For these programs to work, they must be backed by a firm commitment from upper managers.
- Work with Government Funding Agencies to Fund Practical Research – Many government Funding Agencies in the U.S. and other countries provide lots of grants for basic research and very little for applied practical research. This bias is motivating university administrations to hire professors who o basic research instead of applied research. Researchers who do applied research are more likely not to be replaced when they retire compared to basic research scientists. A recent article in Nature discussed problems in human medicine where great discoveries in basic research do not get applied to actual patients (Butler, 2008). The hands-on doctors are doing less and less research and they do not communicate with bio-medical scientists. This funding gap between basic and applied research will hurt both human and animal welfare. People interested in improving animal welfare should work with the policy makers of major governmental research funding agencies to direct more money to applied studies.
- Implement Simple, Practical, Economical Ways to Improve Handling Transport in Developing Countries - Fancy equipment such as hydraulic tail gate lifts or aluminum trailers are often not appropriate in developing countries. The people do not have the equipment or the money to maintain these items. While traveling to many countries, I observed that simple improvements can make a big difference. Non-slip flooring is essential in vehicles used to haul livestock and on scales, unloading areas, and stun boxes. Floors can be made non-slip by welding readily available steel bars on the floor in a grid pattern. A non-slip floor will prevent many serious animal injuries. There is also a need to build ramps for loading and unloading. Many animals in developing countries are injured when they are forced to jump off a vehicle. Training people in animal behavior and low stress handling methods is also essential. Further information can be found in Chapter ( ) Grandin (2007a,c; 1998a and 1987; Ewbank and Parker, 2007 and Smith, 1998). Many people made the mistake of thinking that fancy equipment will solve all the problems. Over the years, the author has learned that good equipment make good treatment easier but it is useless without good management.
- Private Corporate and Foundation Sources of Funding for Animal Welfare Projects and Student Scholarships – These sources are excellent for funding animal welfare programs. They often have more vision than government agencies and become willing to fund a program for a longer period of time. This will help it to get established and keep it running. Programs in sustainable agriculture and local production of food, are activities that many private sources of funding like to support. A good example of an effective project is the mobile slaughter unit which was funded by the Lopez Community Land Trust, a nonprofit group that supports sustainable agriculture (Etter, 2008). This system enables small local hot and cattle producers to have their animals slaughtered in a USDA inspected plant and sell their meat without any restrictions. The mobile unit improves animal welfare because the slaughter house comes to the farm. To make this type of program successful, funds must also be provided for hiring competent people to run and operate the system. The project will likely fail if funds for operating expenses are omitted.
Private sources of money can also be very effective for supporting veterinary and graduate students who go into the animal welfare field. Students will quickly enter the animal welfare field if money is available for projects and scholarships.
- Use Economic Incentives to Pay People Who Handle Load and Unload Livestock and Poultry – Reward animal handlers who load animals extra pay for low levels of bruises, injuries and deads. In the U.S. and British poultry industry, broken wings were reduced from 5% to 1% by paying a bonus to the chicken loaders when broken wings were 1% or less. The same system has also worked well for people handling pigs and cattle. The worst way to pay animal handlers is based on how many they can handle per hour. This will result in rough treatment of the animals. The author has observed terrible handling of pigs, cattle, and poultry when workers were financially rewarded for high speed handling. Workers should be rewarded for high quality handling. It is also essential to not understaff or overwork the people. Tired people will abuse animals. Internal unpublished data from large pigs and poultry companies has shown that death and injuries doubled after the truck loading crews had worked more than six hours.
- Numerous Suppliers Enable a Supermarket or Restaurant to Effectively Enforce High Standards – One of the reasons why McDonald’s and other hamburger chains were effective in improving the U.S. beef slaughter plants is they had more than 40 plants on their approved supplier list. If one or two plants failed an audit, they could stop buying from them and still have enough beef. Most plants that fail an audit are not permanently “delisted.” After they make improvements and pass a re-audit they are put back on the approved supplier list. Less progress has been made with improving poultry practices because most U.S. restaurant chains depend on three to five dedicated plants. If one was taken off the approved list, they would not have sufficient product. Wendy’s International has been the most effective buyer in bringing about change because they use 27 plants. Even though most of the plants are owned by three large companies that makes no difference because a single plant is removed from the supplier list, not one of the big corporations. The author has observed that implementing positive change works best when negotiations are kept at the plant level instead of negotiating with a central corporate office. Each individual plant is either financially rewarded with lots of orders or punished by having orders taken away.
- Combining Animal Welfare Audits with Food Safety and Quality Facilitates Implementation – When welfare programs are first getting started in a country or region, they are easier to implement if they are combined with food safety programs, health and vaccination programs. In the U.S. all of the welfare audits in the slaughter plants are done by the same people who do food safety audits. This made the programs easy to implement because no additional people had to be hired because the food safety auditors were already inspecting the plants. In South America where the concept of animal welfare is still new, animal welfare is being combined with programs to prevent injection site damage and programs to obey medication withdrawal times. The prevention of bruises is a major part of South American programs. In European countries where animal welfare is an established concept there are many people where welfare inspection is their only job.
Major Problem Areas Where Economic Factors Work Against Animal Welfare
- The Customer Demands Live Animals: The Australian live sheep trade is a primary example. The welfare of the sheep would be greatly improved if the sheep were slaughtered in Australia and the meat was shipped to the Middle East. The problem is that there are great economic forces working against this. People in the Middle East dislike the taste of chilled meat and they are willing to pay huge prices for live sheep. The religious requirements for hala slaughter could be done in Australia. The main barrier to eliminating this trade is that the customer wants the unchilled (prerigor) meat. The only way to change this would be to increase the customer’s awareness of animal welfare issues or convince them that chilled or frozen meat is a good product.
- Old Cull Livestock and Poultry of Little Economic Value:
Some of the worst abuse during handling, transport, and slaughter occur with old cull breeding stock. In the U.S., cull dairy cows and old breeding sows often travel greater distances than young animals that have been fattened on either grain or grass. There is less economic incentive to treat these animals well because they are less valuable than young feed animals. An effective way to reduce abuses is to increase the value of old breeding stock. This provides an economic incentive to treat them better. Producers need to be educated that if they sell animals before they become skinny and emaciated, they will receive more money for them. In the U.S. and other parts of the developed world, programs have been implemented in some areas to fatten old breeding stock so that they will become more valuable for meat.
- Highly Segmented Marketing Chains With Many Dealers, Agents, and Middlemen are Bad for Animal Welfare:
In the developed world, such as Europe and North America, most high quality young animals that are fattened for slaughter go directly from the feedlot or farm to a slaughter plant. This makes it much easier to make people accountable for losses. Old breeding stock often passes through a series of auctions or dealers and the origin of the animals may not be able to be traced. In the developing world, all classes of livestock are often sold through middlemen and dealers. In all countries, the sectors of the livestock market where the animals go through a series of auctions, dealers or middlemen will be the most difficult to improve. In a highly segmented market system there is often no accountability for losses. Middlemen and dealers who do not own the animals have little economic incentive to reduce bruises, injuries, and sickness because they are not held financially accountable for losses. In Australia, vaccinating calves and training them to eat from feed troughs reduced sickness (Walker et al., 2006). In the U.S., bovine respiratory disease is a major problem. Most cases of (BRD) could be prevented if ranchers pre-weaned and vaccinated their calves before they left the ranch. Half of the ranchers fail to do this because they receive no financial incentives for vaccinating and pre-weaning their calves (Suther, 2006). To prevent sickness, beef calves should be preconditioned 45 or more days before they are shipped to a feedlot. Preconditioning consists of vaccinations, weaning and teaching the calve to eat from a feed bunk and drink from a water trough. Preconditioning will significantly reduce sickness and low animal performance (Arthington, et al., 2008 and National Cattlemen, Beef Assoc., 1994). The best way to motivate ranchers to implement these practices is to pay them a premium for preconditioned calves. Cattle that get sick have lower quality grades due to less marbling and are worth less money (Texas A&M, 1998 and Waggoner et al., 2006).
Marketing Systems that can be Developed to Replace Segmented Marketing Chains and Improve Welfare
- Special sales where only certified preconditioned calves are sold. State or provincial cattle associations work with local producers to develop these programs. Buyers will pay more for thee cattle (Troxel, et al., 2006). Verification by an independent third party that preconditioning procedure were done increased premiums buyers paid to calves (Bulot and Lawrence, 2006).
- Animals are enrolled in a contractual agreement with a supermarket, restaurant, meat company, or other buyers to produce them to certain specifications such as cage free, preconditioned calves, etc. Producers are paid a premium to be in these programs.
- Producers sell locally grown animals through a cooperative that has strict standards for welfare - For all types of programs, auditing is required to insure that people follow the specifications.
- Overloading the Animal’s Biology Causes Suffering – Broiler poultry, laying hens, dairy cows, and pigs that are raised in intensive systems have been genetically selected over the years to provide more and more meat and milk. Some of the welfare problems caused by single minded selection for production traits have resulted in increased lameness and leg problems in dairy cows and chickens (Knowles, et al., 2008). These problems have gradually become worse over the years and some new people entering into the industry do not know that high percentages of lame animals are totally abnormal. There are three basic ways that animal biology can be overloaded to the point where welfare will be poor.
- Genetic selection solely for rapid weight gain, large muscle growth or ever increasing milk production. Single-minded over selection for production traits has many bad side effects such as reduced disease resistance in pigs (Meeker et al., 1987; Johnson et al., 2005). A study in Belgium showed that the slower growing genetic types of broiler chickens on organic farms had less fluctuating asymmetry compared to conventional fast growing genetics (Tuyttens et al., 2007). Fluctuating asymmetry occurs when the one side of an animal may be either bigger or smaller than the other side. Animals that are not symmetrical often have genetic defects. A high producing America Holstein gives twice as much milk, but she may burn out after only two lactations. A New Zealand grass-fed Holstein lasts twice as long. The producer wants to get the short term economic gains, but in the long run, economics may be worse due to a lack of disease resistance and a higher cost of replacement heifers.
- Feed additives such as beta-agonists that make animals grow lean muscle can cause serious welfare problems if they are fed for too many days or at too high a dose.
In one study, ractopamine (optaflex) fed at 200 mg/day for 28 days, caused a slight increase in the speed cattle moved during handling in British, Continental and Braham cross steers (Bayzczck et al., 2006). There were no adverse effects on welfare. Anecdotal reports indicate that it may cause hoof problems in Holsteins housed in a muddy lot, when given at the same dose. Stockyard managers at slaughter plants and my own observations indicate that higher doses for longer times cause weakness and more “downers” nonambulatory pigs. It can also make pigs more difficult to handle (Marchant-Ford et al., 2003). The manufacturers have lowered the recommended dosage from 18 grams per ton of feed to 4.5 grains per ton of feed. In cattle, over use and too high a dose of zilpateral (Zilmax) or ractopamine in cattle has resulted in lameness and heat stress. Stockyard (lairage) managers in two plants have reported that the outer shell of the hoof fell off of feedlot cattle fed too much zilpateral. Both the author and the managers have observed that the hooves look normal and they are not elongated like the hoof of an animal with laminitis. Data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from Food and Drug Administration approval trials for zilpateral indicate that it made beef tougher when fed at 6.8 grams per ton of feed. The Warner Bratzler shear force test results were 3.29 for the control and 4.01 kg for the zilpateral cattle with a significance level of (P<0.001)(Freedom of Information, 2006). Research conducted by Vasconcelos et al., (2008) showed that cattle fed zilpateral had less marbling (P<0.01). In pigs, ractopamine made pork tougher unless it was aged for 10 days (Xiong et al., 2008). All of the studies showed that beta-agonists greatly increased muscle mass and the area of the loin. The cost of this increased amount of meat is poorer meat quality and bad effects on animal welfare unless beta-agonists are used very carefully.
April 2013 Update: Welfare problems observed in feedlot cattle arriving at slaughter plants that have been fed beta-agonists
The author has observed more problems in fed cattle arriving at slaughter plants which had been fed beta-agonists. In most cases where bad effects are observed, the effects were uneven. A few animals were severely affected, 20 to 50% were sore footed lame, and the rest of the group were normal. I have observed this in these types of cattle: Holstiens, Brahman X British X Continental cross steers, and in groups of cattle that were all Bos Tauras beef breeds with no signs of Brahman characteristics.
In hot weather, 95 degrees F (35 degrees C), the severerly affected animals had open mouth panting and a few animals became non-ambulatory. The lame cattle were sore footed on all four feet and they were reluctant to walk quickly down the truck unloading ramp. Normal cattle will run or trot down the ramp. During cooler weather, stiffness has been observed in steers fed Zilpaterol. They act like they have muscle cramps. I have observed one group of cattle fed Zilpaterol that walked normally. They came from a feedlot with a sophisticated mill that would have mixed the feed evenly. There has also been a report of a "statue steer" which walked off the truck and when it was time to be moved to the slaughter line he stood and refused to move. He acted like he was too stiff or sore to move. These observations indicate that there are severe welfare problems in some animals fed beta-agonists. Poor feed mixing may be part of the problem. Cattle arriving at the plant should be evaluated for lameness, heat stress (open mouth breathing), and stiffness. From an animal welfare standpoint, lameness, open mouth breathing, and a stiff gate are not acceptable.
There is also a need for research on a genetic interaction and beta-agonists. I observed a pen of cattle that contained many different breeds. A Simmental steer had become very big and stiff and a Hereford steer appeared more normal. Possibly cattle with a greater genetic potential for muscle growth have more effects.
Quality and quantity of meat are two opposing goals. Beef cattle fed two many beta-agonists will have less marbling and tougher meat. Meat companies who want high quality meat have banned or greatly restricted these products in their programs. Unfortunately there are some meat companies who pay a premium for animals with a high percentage of lean meat. This has provided an economic incentive to overuse beta-agonists, which have resulted in many lame cattle. They do this because they are selling beef to low end consumers and they put all the meat through a needle machine to tenderize it. Low income consumers buy most of this beef. Beta-agonists can cause lameness, weakness, and hoof problems because they are vaso constrictors.
The growth hormone rBST has caused problems for dairy cows unless it is used in a very carefully managed program. It can cause excessive loss of body condition and increase mastitis (Willeberg et al., 1993; Kronfield, 1994, and Collier et al., 2001). People who are assessing welfare on feedlots an farms that use these products should carefully evaluate animal based outcomes such as body condition, lameness, and heat stress symptoms such as panting.
- Poor Insurance Programs Reward Bad Practices – Mistreatment of animals and high levels of bruising and death losses will occur if a truck driver or transport company is reimbursed for every dead, injured, or bruised animal. The most effective insurance programs pay for catastrophic losses such as rolling a truck over but they will not pay for the first five dead pigs. There is a deductable amount of losses that are not covered. This motivates drivers and transporters to handle animals well so they will not have to pay for losses caused by rough handing or carelessness.
- Fatigued, Overworked Truck Drivers and Stock People – To save on transport costs, some drivers are doing too many trips and not getting sufficient sleep. Sometimes the worst problems often occur with independent truckers who want to earn more money, but some transport companies have drivers on schedules where getting sufficient sleep is impossible. This has resulted in many truck accidents. Jennifer Woods, a livestock specialist in Canada, found that a high percentage of livestock truck accidents were due to fatigue. Forty-nine percent of the accidents occur between midnight and 9:00 in the morning. Another indicator that fatigue was a major reason for the accidents was 80% of the accidents involved a single vehicle and 84% were trucks that rolled to the right because a sleeping driver ran off the road. Weather had little effect. During the winter where there is ice on the road, fewer accidents occurred compared to October when livestock truck traffic was greatest. This data is based on a total of 415 commercial livestock truck accidents in the U.S. and Canada (Woods and Grandin, 2008). Data on the accidents was obtained from news reports obtained on the internet and research from industry.
- Overworked Employees and Overloaded Equipment is Detrimental to Animal Welfare – Many people who are interested in animal welfare assume that slaughter plants with a high line speed are bad. Data collected by Grandin (2005) indicated that when equipment is designed and staffed with enough people, line speed had no effect on the percentage of cattle stunned with one shot from a captive bolt (Table 1). The author has observed that the worst problems occur when either equipment or people are overloaded. This occurs when the plant’s meat sales exceed the capacity of the plant’s equipment and staffing. One plant that slaughtered 26 cattle per hour worked really well, but when its line speed was increased to 35 cattle per hour with no increase in employees, and no equipment modifications, they repeatedly slammed the stun box door on cattle. They ended up having their UDA inspection suspended for violation of the Humane Slaughter Act.
Table 1: Effect of line speed on stunning in beef slaughter plants.
||Percentage of cattle rendered insensible with a single shot from a captive bolt stunner
||Percentage of cattle moved with an electric prod
|Line speed (Cattle per Hour)
|Under 50 (16 plants)
|51 to 100 (13 plants)
|100 to 200 (10 plants)
|Over 200 (27 plants)
- Conflict of Interest During Audits – It is important that the person who is evaluating a farm or slaughter plant not have a financial conflict of interest. Audits for animal welfare and food safety have the greatest credibility when they are conducted by either a third party, independent auditor, a representative from the company that is buying the meat, a government employee, or an employee of the meat company that has a contract with the producer to grow livestock or poultry. A veterinarian, who is a farm’s regular veterinarian, has a conflict of interest. If he or she is too strict, the farm may fire him. This situation would be like a traffic policeman giving his boss a fine for speeding. To prevent bribery, auditors must be paid enough so they will be less likely to accept bribes. The farm veterinarian plays a very important role in helping his/her clients to obey the standards. The farm veterinarians should conduct internal audits on a regular basis so his/her clients will be ready for the external audit. It is also a conflict of interest for an auditor to be profiting from selling equipment, drugs, feed or any other service, to the people that are being audited.
- Failure to Treat Sick Animals in Organic or Natural Programs – Most people who raise livestock or poultry for organic or natural programs do a good job and if an organic method for treating a sick animal fails, they will use antibiotics. The organic programs in the U.S. and some other countries forbid all use of antibiotics. If a sick animal is treated with antibiotics it has to be removed from the organic program. The author has observed some cases where cattle had hair falling out due to lice or severe coughing and they were not treated so they could maintain their organic status. Successful organic medicine has a major emphasis on good management practices to prevent disease. One good way to prevent disease is to use breeds or genetic lines of animals that are more hardy and disease resistant. Research done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that certain genetic lines of lean, fast growing pigs were more susceptible to PRRS (Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome) (Johnson et al., 2005). For an organic grass based dairy, New Zealand Holstein genetics may be a better choice than American Holsteins because they are more hardy. At one poorly run organic dairy in the U.S., 30% of the Holstein calves died due to the failure to given them antibiotics.
- Effect of the Price of Grain on Welfare and the Destruction of Pasture – In the U.S., the beef industry started putting cattle in feedlots during the 1960’s because grain was cheap. Cheap grain provided an incentive to take cattle off of pasture and raise them in feedlots. The pork and poultry industries also greatly expanded due to availability of cheap grain. Since the early 2000’s, the use of grain to make ethanol has increased around the world. This has resulted in high grain prices. The author visited Brazil and Uruguay in 2007 and 2008 and learned that the high price of grain is an economic incentive for turning pasture land into crops. Up to 30% of the prime pastureland in Uruguay has already been converted to growing soybeans. In Brazil, more and more cattle are being moved off of pasture into feedlots. A similar situation is also occurring in Argentina. Much of Argentina’s grain crop goes to Europe and the Argentinean treasury receives huge amounts of income on grain taxes. It has been estimated that taxes on exported grain may produce 80% of the country’s tax revenue (Nation, 2008). Ranchers are converting more and more of their land to grain. In the U.S., county extension agents in Illinois report that hilly pastureland that is not really suited for crops is being planted with crops.
To have good animal welfare in a feedlot requires dry ground. The author has observed from traveling all over the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Central and South America, that in areas where the rainfall is greater than 20 inches of rainfall per year, it is very difficult to keep the surface of the feedlot pens dry. This is the reason why so many U.S. feedlots are in the high plains area where rainfall is less. In the 70’s, ranchers tried building dirt feedlots in the rainy southeastern U.S. and they gave it up due to the mud. Some people are moving cattle back to the rainy Midwestern grain growing areas to take advantage of feeding ethanol by-products which are wet and more expensive to ship than dry grain. This has resulted in some cattle being put in indoor feedlots.
- Sacrificing the Well-being of the Individual for Greater Profits – When pigs or chickens are jammed too tightly into a house, the productivity of each individual animal usually declines. Unfortunately, there is an economic incentive to do this because the overall output her house of eggs or meat may be greater. The bad economic incentive to overstock a building is most likely to occur in places where both land and buildings are expensive.
- Standards Become Less Strict When Demand for the Product Exceeds the Supply - The author has worked with many of the grocery stores who sell either organic or high welfare standard meat, milk or eggs. In the beginning, they start out with strict standards. When the product becomes popular, demand exceeds supply. The grocery store cannot get enough products so they are tempted to either lower their standard or start using less reliable suppliers. The author observed a natural beef company who became lax in enforcing their own standards and the practices became so bad in their overworked little slaughter plant that it got shut down several times by the USDA for humane slaughter violations. Standards can also slip when the original founder of the company leaves and the company is sold to a large corporation. When the founder leaves, the company no longer has the founder’s vision.
- Customers are Very Poor and Feeding a Hungry Family has Priority Over Animal Welfare - People in this situation will buy the cheapest meat they can get. This is especially a problem in poor developing countries. Feeding the family is their first priority. The meat company that is encouraging the use of zilpateral is selling to low customers.
- Cutting Horns Off Mature Animals is a Painful, Stressful Procedure – Cattle with horns will have more bruises than cattle with no horns after transport. Tipping (cutting the tips) of the horns does not reduce bruising. A recent study in West Africa showed that breeds with massive horns had more bruises and injuries compared to breeds with smaller horns (Minka and Ayo, 2008). The practice of cutting horns on adult animals is a practice that should be banned. Some transporters and producers have done this to reduce damage during transport. Cutting horns of large feedlot cattle is currently occurring in the U.S. and other countries because the slaughter plant tells them to do this, and has no concern for welfare. Horns should be removed form small calves before they grow long or polled (hornless) cattle breeds should be used. Many injuries on African cattle could probably be reduced by lower stocking densities on the truck, nonslip flooring and quiet handling. To encourage producers to dehorn calves, charging a “horn tax” works well. There should also be an additional financial deduction for cut horns on mature animals.
Well Intentioned Legislation With Bad Consequences
Over the years, the author has observed many situations where well intentioned legislation or activist activities may be detrimental to improving animal welfare. Prime examples of these are the laws in the U.S. banning horse slaughter for human consumption. The closure of two out of the three U.S. horse slaughter plants has already resulted in unwanted horses being transported even further distances to either Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Some have been transported all the way to Mexico City. Live horses are also being shipped to Japan. When the Humane Society of the U.S. lobbied the government to pass this law, nobody thought about worse fates that some unwanted horses could go to. The fates that are worse than slaughter in Texas or Illinois are: 1) longer transport times, 2) transport under substandard conditions in Mexico, 3) neglected and left to starve on the desert. High hay and grain prices have made this problem worse, 4) ridden and worked in Mexico until they become totally debilitated. I have seen these worse fates and they are awful. Horse slaughter became such an emotional issue that animal advocates chose to ignore the observations of people in the field that indicated that there are worse fates than slaughter in a U.S. plant. Animal welfare can also become worse when legislators make standards so strict that an animal industry is shut down in one country and production is transferred to another country that has atrocious standards. This has already happened in Europe with the egg industry. Eggs are now being imported from eastern Europe into western Europe. The standards for animal welfare in Eastern Europe are poor. Exporters of eggs, milk, and meat should be required to adhere to the standards of the importing country.
An understanding of how economic factors effect how farm animals are treated will help policy makers to improve welfare. Holding people financially accountable for losses or providing incentives for low losses will greatly improve animal treatment. The wise use of the tremendous purchasing power of large meat buyers has already brought about some dramatic improvements. Unfortunately, there are also many situations where economics is detrimental to animal welfare. One of the worst problems is pushing animals past their biological limits by either single-minded selection for production or the over use of performance enhancing substances.
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