In the last two decades, changes in animal welfare have improved how food animals are handled in slaughter plants, in transportation and on the farm. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) Animal Welfare Audit, developed by Temple Grandin, Ph.D., has gained broad acceptance in the food industry and vastly improved animal handling at meat slaughter plants. Organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have raised public interest in animal welfare issues leading to changes in areas such as gestation crates for pigs and cage-free environments for laying hens.
In view of the progress of recent years, there is no lack of animal welfare challenges for the immediate and long-range future.
Stunning and Insensibility
Since 1999, when McDonald’s began to require all beef suppliers pass an animal welfare audit for slaughter plants, the NAMI Animal Welfare Audit has been the benchmark for auditing humane handling at red meat plants. One of the core criteria of the audit has been the evaluation of insensibility after stunning. In the audit, animals have been considered either sensible or insensible.
|Janet Riley, NAMI senior vice president of public affairs|
Janet Riley is NAMI’s senior vice president of public affairs, and coordinates the activity of the NAMI Animal Welfare Committee. The group, including audit author Grandin, is responsible for periodically updating the audit guidelines. New research about insensibility is leading to a change in how one of the core criteria is viewed.
Riley reports that the publication of scientific research known as the “Terlouw Papers” has expanded the understanding of insensibility. These research documents, published in 2015, examine the scientific aspects of animal consciousness, and have added a new dimension to the discussion.
Riley elaborates, “It talks about what constitutes a sensible animal, about the transition phase where an animal really isn’t conscious, but is showing signs that it may return to consciousness.” The identification of this transition phase has moved the Animal Welfare Committee to add detail to its audit for this core criterion.
“A question for us has been,” Riley continues: “‘At what point does a regulatory violation occur?’ Is this when an animal is showing signs it may return to consciousness, or is it the actual sensible animal? We think it should be when the animal is fully conscious.
“If you see signs the animal is returning to sensibility and you respond responsibly and swiftly to prevent that return to consciousness, that shouldn’t constitute a regulatory violation. We understand that the agency agrees with that perspective. We’ve asked them to confirm that in writing, so that it can be shared with members and convey that perspective to the inspection workforce.
“We’ve created a chart for the guidelines that places things into three categories:
1) Definitely unconscious, no action needed, no regulatory violation;
2) Showing signs of return to sensibility, second stun needed, no regulatory violation;
3) Conscious, second stun needed, regulatory violation.”