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Temple Grandin: Ag must communicate better with the public
[October 28, 2012]

Temple Grandin: Ag must communicate better with the public

Oct 28, 2012 (Greeley Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The conference room that had been filled with applause and laughter minutes earlier was now quiet, aside from workers rearranging tables and chairs, and Temple Grandin, having just delivered a well-received presentation on autism to a full house, leaned back in an office chair and shifted her focus to the other topic at the center of her life: the livestock industry.

"There's a lot of producers, especially around here, who have changed the way they do things over the years, for the better ... and collectively I think the industry has come a pretty long way," said Grandin, an animal science professor from Colorado State University who has conquered autism on her way to becoming a best-selling author and world-renowned speaker. She was in Greeley on Wednesday to serve as the speaker for the Greeley Rotary Club's meeting that afternoon.

Grandin's name today is synonymous with innovations in animal behavior and livestock handling that have revolutionized food-animal welfare, as well as advocacy for individuals with autism.

Her accomplishments as a speaker, author and advocate earned her a place among TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2010, and her life story was the subject of the award-winning HBO biopic, "Temple Grandin." At least half of all cattle in the U.S. and Canada, as well as other countries, are now handled in slaughter systems designed by Grandin, who used her autistic mind to think like animals and also "think in pictures," as she describes it, to visualize her innovations before they came to fruition.

Her animal welfare guidelines have become the standard in the $80 billion meat-packing industry. Many operations in livestock-rich Weld County -- including what is now the JBS USA Beef Plant, one of the largest beef-packing facilities in the world -- have implemented Grandin's methods.

Because of her autism, Grandin, a Massachusetts native, attended a special boarding school with dairy cows and a stable with horses during her youth, with that experience eventually leading to Grandin's interest in animals.

Grandin received her Ph.D. in animal sciences in 1989, and has been a professor at Colorado State University 1990.

After her autism presentation Wednesday, the livestock expert sat down with The Tribune to discuss the industry.

Question -- As long as you've been in the industry and working with producers here in Weld County and worldwide, are you pleased with the amount of progress that's been made over the years regarding livestock handling and animal welfare Answer -- Back when I got started, I'd say about 10 percent of the industry was doing things the right way. Today, that number is probably closer 40 percent, although that's just an estimate, and many others are slowly making progress. Our producers here in Colorado really seem to be proactive.

It's a good thing to see, but you still have some bad eggs out there, that 10 percent of operations where a lot of improvements are needed. And unfortunately, those are the ones that seem to get all of the attention. It's been that way a long time, and the industry has seen a negative impact because of that.

Q -- What do you think should be the top priority of the livestock industry and its producers going forward A -- They have to communicate with the public better. Agriculture across the board is horrible at communicating.

Look at the "pink slime" issue; the beef industry should have had a much more immediate response, educating the public about what "finely textured beef" is, and that it's a safe, efficient product. There was a response eventually, but it came too late. The damage was done.

It shouldn't take an event like that to initiate the communication. Although most people are very detached from agriculture, they're still fascinated by it. I remember looking one time at the most popular videos on YouTube, and one of them was just of a front loader scooping up grain. Now, to a farmer, that has to be one of the most boring things to watch in the world, but to someone who's never seen it before that's fascinating.

Unfortunately, much of what's out there are the videos of what's not being done right in agriculture. The ones who are doing things right need to show the public what's going on.

Q -- What are some good examples of what agriculture should be doing as far as better communicating A -- Have you seen the "I'm Farming and I Grow It" video It's wonderful. It was just some Kansas State (University) student thinking outside of the boxes, doing something creative. It took probably little time to make, but reached such a big audience, and it did so much good for agriculture -- put it in a positive light.

Some organizations are getting creative with using Facebook and other social media, but there's not enough of it going on right now.

Q -- Do you think others, too, should help communicate agriculture's message What about the state A -- Yes, it would definitely be in the best interest of the state to help out. The state understands, or at least it should understand, how important agriculture is to Colorado.

Q -- In addition to communicating better with the public and seeing more producers implement up-to-date livestock-handling methods, what other changes do you want to see in the industry A -- Really, what we need is for some of the producers who are out there defending out-of-date practices to stop. Not everyone is out there doing it, but the ones who are seem to draw a lot of attention.

For example, look at sow-gestation stalls. So many companies have stopped using them, and others are moving away from it, but you have those people out there who are still defending it.

It's going away, it needs to go away, let it go away.

___ (c)2012 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) Visit the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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