Just days before taking a star turn on the internationally televised Golden Globes awards show, renowned animal behaviourist Temple Grandin urged Alberta farmers, ranchers, and others in agriculture to put themselves in the spotlight.
“I can’t emphasize it enough that ag has to do a much better job of communicating with the public,” Grandin told an animal-welfare forum at the University of Edmonton.
Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and author of numerous books and articles. Most of her work involves assisting large meat-processing corporations improve their livestock-handling standards and setting up animal-welfare auditing programs for retailers such as McDonald’s.
In 2010, HBO released a movie version of her life starring Claire Danes, who won a Golden Globe for her portrayal. The actress had invited Grandin to last Sunday’s ceremony, hugging her when the award was announced and praising her in her acceptance speech.
Since the movie’s release, Grandin has spent a lot of time talking to the general public about livestock issues, and what she discovered is how little most people know about agriculture.
“They don’t know the basics about animals,” she said.
People have misperceptions about how cattle and chickens are raised, and many cannot tell the difference between a dairy and beef cow.
The way to combat that lack of knowledge is to publicize what goes on in agriculture, she said.
Two years ago, Grandin put pig-stunning, cow-stunning and cow-handling videos on YouTube.
“A lot of people in the industry were absolutely, totally against that,” she said. “They thought I was crazy.”
Over 600,000 people have watched her pig-stunning video, and the cow-stunning video has received over 300,000 views. That generated some nasty comments, but overall, Grandin only had to delete about 25 comments.
“It’s only a tiny percentage that write really venomous things,” she said.
She noted JS West, an egg company in California, now has a web camera in its houses, which allows people to go on the Internet, look inside the facilities, and watch live chickens.
“We need to be doing more of these things,” Grandin said. “With the kind of ability that we have now, we can open up the door electronically.”
Grandin said producers should look at everything they do, and ask themselves how people will perceive it. People want to be able to see what happens on livestock operations, she said.
“The thing I’ve found is that people are just curious and they just wanted to know,” she said. “When I was at a big fancy press conference for the movie, the Hollywood press just wanted to know what a feedlot was and how a slaughter plant works. They’re just curious.”
Grandin said she has gone on YouTube to see videos of cattle feedyards and has realized that people just want to see normal, everyday operations.
“People are interested in the normal stuff, and some of the normal stuff is overruling some of the nasty stuff,” she said. “We need to be putting more and more things up showing normal stuff.”
“Ican’temphasizeit enoughthataghas todoamuchbetter jobofcommunicating withthepublic.”
– TEMPLE GRANDIN