Temple Grandin has become a bit of a celebrity since Claire Daines expertly introduced her character to the world in the 2010 award-winning movie, Temple Grandin. But first and foremost, Grandin is a teacher. She alone is credited with giving a voice to autism—which she was diagnosed with in the 1950s—and as a highly functioning adult with autism, she has used her unique skill set to change the animal handling practices of the world, all while teaching others how to do the same. It is estimated that 30% of the world uses Grandin’s designs for handling livestock, and that at least half of the cattle in North America benefit from her humane slaughter systems.
Grandin sees in pictures, and as a professor at Colorado State University, she tells her students they can expect to learn how to observe, as she does, as well as how to conduct scientific research.
“I have my students pick out a subject, rather narrow, in animal behavior. They’ve got to do something narrow enough that they’ve got to dig in those databases,” Grandin said.
Research is Grandin’s power play. Due to her autism, Grandin’s way of thinking allows her to understand what the animal experiences, but that she backs up her arguments with sound, scientific research is what has allowed her to make some of the most profound changes in livestock handling.
According to Grandin, getting companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s to audit their supply farms according to her animal welfare standards is one of her greatest accomplishments.
“The bad ‘ol days in the ’80s and the early ’90s were terrible. In 1999, I used an objective scoring system that I developed to audit the meat plants and they had to make certain numbers to pass: No more than 1% falling [down , and] only three out of 100 cattle mooing and bellering in the stun box. If they didn’t make those numbers, they were kicked off the McDonald’s-approved supplier list. That resulted in some very, very big changes.”
Grandin acknowledges that there is work yet to be done. In the food-animal industry, she sees the greatest potential for improvement with poultry and dairy.
“What seems to be happening is there are probably 20 percent of dairies that are doing a really good job, but probably half the dairies are doing a really bad job,” Grandin said in response to whether she’s seeing an effort to fix the problems in these industries.
The reasons for the problems in these industries, Grandin suggests, are bad managers, as well as pushing the biology of an animal to a point where it can no longer function as it is meant to.
But it is not all doom and gloom for the food-animal industry. Grandin notes that she’s seen great improvements in slaughtering plants; that there are farmers and ranchers who will absolutely make the changes necessary to improve the welfare of their animals; and that “beef cattle, out of all the animals, when they’re done right, have the best life.”
And though the basic nature of raising beef cattle may lend itself toward good animal welfare, it is Grandin’s unique approach and unwavering dedication that championed such significant change throughout the industry.