A five-week book tour for my New York Times bestseller, "Animals Make Us Human," was a real eye-opener. I gave talks in bookstores in 13 major cities. At one bookstore, a student walked up to me and said, "Dr. Grandin, how can we get rid of factory farms?" The younger generation had a much more negative view of the livestock industry compared to the older generation.
The livestock industry has totally failed to communicate with young people. The only thing the younger generation sees is all the bad stuff on the Internet. I really felt the generation gap at the book signings. In most bookstores, 75 percent or more of the attendees were over the age of 40. This was especially true for the people who were interested in animals.
About a year ago, I posted a number of my training videos on www.YouTube.com. They show stunning and handling of animals. I did this to offset all of the negative footage on YouTube, most of which is undercover videos, showing the worst conditions. My video on electric stunning of pigs recently had 145,066 views and a video on the design of cattle stun boxes and restrainers had 68,725. Videos on animal handling are much lower with 8,700 and 1,890 views.
When I first posted these, I received some filthy hate postings and a few people called me a Nazi because I am involved in killing animals. I blocked the senders of hate mail, racist comments and Nazi references, but I left the other postings that were both for and against eating meat. I invite Meat&Poultry readers to make comments on my videos. Please make thoughtful comments on the ethical use of animals for meat. This is the best way to communicate with the younger generation. If you do not know how to find videos on YouTube, ask your children, niece or nephew for help. They likely also know how to post comments on the site.
When I go to livestock meetings, I often get nice comments from people who really appreciated my videos. One thing I learned years ago when I was a livestock editor of the Arizona Farmer Ranchman was that angry people would quickly contact the magazine when they did not like an article. However, the people who liked an article usually did not contact us. I only heard from them
when they saw me at a meeting. Out of more than 145,000 viewers of the videos, only 25 posted negative comments. However, it is the nasty voices that have the most impact on the Internet because the nice people don’t bother to communicate. I am proud of the work I have done to reduce animal suffering and I want people to know about it.
In animal agriculture, we need to look at everything we do and say "If I showed this to my big city wedding guests, how would they react?"
I have taken many people through large meat plants. I had them watch the cattle quietly walking up the ramp. The most common comment is that "it’s not as bad as I thought it would be." The industry has made some efforts to communicate, but they have not fully opened up the house. One industry brochure I saw recently showed the outside of a pig farm with no pictures of the inside. Another animal agriculture brochure showed an empty chicken house.
The industry has two choices. Clean up the house and show it or let undercover videos of the worst places be the only things the public sees. Keeping cell phone video cameras out of the farms and meat plants is impossible. A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that even federal prisons have a hard time keeping cell phones away from the inmates.
I spent two hours just before writing this column looking at YouTube videos listed under search terms such as: cattle slaughter, pig slaughter, cattle ranch, feedlot and pig farm. Along with the undercover footage, I saw other videos that had been posted within the last year by farmers, ranchers and meat plants. The industry needs to do more of this. These videos showed normal operations and showed everything. The American Meat Institute’s videos are a good start.
I have worked for 35 years to improve animal handling and I want the public, both the older and the younger generation, to know about it.
Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.