Browsing Temple Grandin’s official website is a puzzle of ideas and positions on animals in agriculture that could leave you more confused about her conclusions than when you started. For instance, her position on what she calls “humane slaughter” and appropriate methods of slaughter begins, not with an explanation of the benefits to the animal, but to its economic / legal compliance advantages:
“Stunning an animal correctly will provide better meat quality. Improper electric stunning will cause bloodspots in the meat and bone fractures. Good stunning practices are also required so that a plant will be in compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act…” (http://www.grandin.com/humane/rec.slaughter.html). Note that this law is essentially meaningless for farmed animals, and about 95% of the animals killed each year are exempt from it anyway (chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, etc.)
Surely if we consider pre-Grandin conventional methods of slaughter, Grandin’s methods appear to offer some modest reduction in animal suffering. But why should we accept the backward, the cruel and the barbaric as a barometer of how animals should be treated? That would seem to be a serious flaw in Grandin’s judgment. In fact Grandin’s underlying assumption is that killing animals for food is a given. The only thing we can do is make the process less miserable for them.
This assumption dismisses any serious attempt to protect the interest animals have in not being used as a human resource in the first place, which begs the question: If Grandin is truly the animal lover she claims to be, then why does she not advocate that animals be spared a life of exploitation and violence? Why instead does she choose to apply her life’s work to more efficient forms of mass extermination?
Throughout her website, Grandin portrays herself as a genuine animal lover. In some of her articles, she even seems to suggest that there is a moral basis for condemning animal exploitation all together, based on her findings about animal behavior and intelligence. But then in other sections of the site, such as that pertaining to humane slaughter, she describes in chilling detail the assembly-line stunning and slaughtering of animals in what she proposes as “humane” as opposed to traditional practices she views as decisively “inhumane.” For the animal victim, it’s hard to imagine what such gradations of pain and suffering could mean, if anything, in the process of having his life snuffed out of him.
Some might argue that perhaps Grandin’s popularity has awakened greater interest and concern for at least the welfare of animals in the agricultural environment. I do believe it has. Yet, whether this results in a more serious attempt to consider animal interests is another matter. When asked by a vegetarian today “didn’t I think Temple Grandin was great and had I seen that HBO documentary about her?”
I replied “no, I don’t. Her popularity has contributed to two key outcomes: 1. allaying consumer concerns about animal suffering which translates into consumers eating more meat, dairy and eggs (even some vegetarians admit “defecting” under the spell of humane slaughter marketing) and 2. handing the meat industry exactly what they needed: a positive, “humane” face to the public as well as more efficient and productive extermination technologies. The result is a record number of animals killed for food than at any time in history. At least in terms of sheer numbers, the animals are the ultimate losers of Temple Grandin’s alleged love of animals.”
And nonetheless, many people believe in the fictional story that the word “humane” symbolizes in describing the killing of a sentient being against his will, without questioning the obvious and inherent contradiction, thanks to HBO and other orchestrated media campaigns that fall just short of casting her as the “Mother Teresa” of farmed animals.
The animal rights position holds that the interests of animals viewed as property and used as commodities will consistently be subjugated by even the most trivial interests of the human property owner. We see this idea manifesting itself all around us. A case in point is the owner of A & L Poultry in California who in March 2012 abandoned 50,000 hens in his care, leaving them to starve in cages and blaming the tragedy on rising feed costs. The power of the property owner over his animal property is typically protected even in matters of life or death for the animal.
Now let’s return to Grandin’s notion of humane slaughter. Consider and reflect on the meaning of her following passage:
“In both captive bolt and electrically stunned animals, kicking will occur. Ignore the kicking and look at the head. To put it simply, THE HEAD MUST BE DEAD. When cattle are shot with a captive bolt, it is normal to have a spasm for 5 to 15 seconds. After the animal is rolled out of the box or hung up its eyes should relax and be wide open. After electrical stunning, a properly stunned animal should have a rigid (tonic) phase followed by a clonic (paddling of the legs) phase. This is an indication of a grand mal epileptic seizure. The seizure induces insensibility.” (see http://www.grandin.com/humane/insensibility.html)
Now imagine for a moment that the victims in Grandin’s passage were human. Could you, with a clear conscience, apply the term “humane” to this description? And if yes, would you then go on to defend in great detail that the different gradations of suffering involved in various forms of execution were relevant to the discussion or just meaningless distractions?