August 19th, 2013
03:00 PM ET
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Ryan Goodman has been involved in agriculture all of his life, working on ranches across the country, as well as studying cattle nutrition and reproduction at the college levels. He works daily with farmers and ranchers, helping their voices become part of the national dialogues on food and agriculture topics. You can reach him on Twitter @AgProudRyan, as well as his personal blog, AgricultureProud.com.

Transparency in food and agriculture can have different meanings to different groups of people. As Illinois farmer, Katie Pratt, recently discussed on Eatocracy, transparency includes having an open mind for education on both sides of the plate. The issue of animal slaughter is a topic that brings much heated discussion. Recent efforts to improve the transparency in this area continue to be met with much resistance.

The New York Times ran an opinion article titled “Open the Slaughterhouses” that opened debate on the "ag gag" bills and our ability to report cases of animal cruelty. As the author suggests, increasing visibility in slaughterhouses would be a good thing, but there is a problem with that. Americans are so far removed from the reality and graphic nature of the process of death, that images of animal slaughter can stir quite the negative response.

A good example of this comes from a California rancher, Megan Brown, sharing her custom exempt (meaning free from continuous inspection as it's only providing meat for the animal's owner) slaughter images and experience when harvesting both cattle and hogs at her family’s farm. Megan received a lot of criticism (some from within the livestock community) for being transparent and explaining how her animals were harvested.

There are several farm-to-fork, local food producers across the country doing a great job of connecting with their customers and answering their questions. However, not all of these messages are a fair representation of larger-scale agriculture. I think we can all admit that there is room for improvement when it comes to transparency across the entire food and agriculture spectrum.

Forrest Pritchard, local farmer in the D.C. area, has done a great job with transparency and communicating with his customers about how food animals are raised, fed, and processed. His blog answers several questions from his Farmer’s Market customers and one of his recent posts took a brief tour of his local custom slaughterhouse. By the way, Forrest’s new book, "Gaining Ground," has been touted as one of the best new reads of the summer.

There is a saying to the effect of: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would stop eating meat.“ Through all of my experiences, I consider myself more aware of how my meat is harvested, and feel safe when consuming products from our American food system. It certainly has not turned me away from meat consumption.

I have had the opportunity to tour both large and small processors, like Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and even regional processors. All of these processors have common goals of keeping the animals calm prior to and during the slaughter process, preventing food safety concerns throughout the entire process, and keeping employees and visitors safe. It is not easy to open access to the slaughter facility and keep these priorities intact, but the meat industry is working to open doors in other ways.

The American Meat Institute and Dr. Temple Grandin are working together to fix a possible disconnect by grasping the "glass walls" approach. Dr. Grandin is an established animal welfare scientists who has had more impact than anyone else on how animals are handled prior to and during the slaughter process. AMI and Grandin have teamed up for a few videos that walk us through slaughter plants that represent the industry, explain what is occurring, and why it is done that way.

Last August, AMI released a video walking viewers through a beef plant. Part Two of the Glass Walls project was released earlier this year and walks viewers through the process of getting pigs to slaughter and the steps involved. For a print version of this information, AMI has this PDF available. There are also many great resources related to animal welfare and handling at animalhandling.org.

We may not all be able to visit slaughterhouses in large groups and I do not expect these videos to completely change the perceptions of meat industries, but opportunities to learn from a distance are extremely important. I do hope folks will receive efforts like these as a move toward better transparency.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ryan Goodman.

Got a question for Ryan or any of our other farmers? Please share it below and we'll do our best to have a great conversation.

Previously:
Opinion: Farming in a fishbowl
Start a conversation with a farmer
Why my hogs are on a healthcare plan
Three takes on the "ag gag" laws
Opinion: Where are the female and minority farmers?
Opinion: Why you should talk to farmers
Opinion: My family farm isn't under "corporate control"
Farmers aren't evil. Now can we have a civil conversation?
What should a 'local' farm (and farmer) look like?
Who are you calling 'rich'? A small farmer shares some hard data
Forward-thinking farmers are preventing another Dust Bowl
What a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate



soundoff (239 Responses)
  1. Julianne Scanlon

    Watch Food Inc. No lies all truth. America needs to open their eyes so that we can all eat meat that has come from an animal that has been respected and treated humanely. It will better our health, lower our chances of getting cancer, reduce obesity, and be respectful of our farmers and where our food should come from. We should be feeding cows grass not corn where in the wild would they eat corn? We need to progress technology to help us grow our food the right way not a chemically infused, antibiotic, and stuffed full of hormones way. What do the employees from monsanto and the four major meat companies eat? Surely they don't eat their own products knowing what is done to them! Interesting thought.

    March 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  2. Daren Williams

    I have toured beef, pork and poultry processing facilities and the only one that made me quesy was poultry. I know longer eat fowl but just had a bacon cheesburger. Enough said.

    September 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Reply
    • Daren Williams

      **no

      September 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  3. Tony

    A slaughter house is like disneyland. If you really want to find out where beef comes from, go hunt it yourself. When you have to cut out the anus and genitals of a fresh kill, only then should you have the right to buy your meat at a supermarket.

    August 27, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • Poltergiest

      Lol what? Butchers have been around for thousands of years. That's never been a requirement for eating meat.

      September 2, 2013 at 1:00 am | Reply
  4. Tony

    The poll is extremely biased. They forgot a choice:" I did and it made me hungry for a cheesburger".

    August 27, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • Daren Williams

      That's funny, Tony, because I had a bacon cheeseburger about an hour after touring my first pork processing plant. If anything, it made me feel better about the safefty and quality of meat.

      September 16, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  5. Sanchez

    I couldn't visit a slaughterhouse, after watching Earthlings it would be too much. You'd probably end up trying to rescue them overnight with whatever you had on.

    August 27, 2013 at 9:31 am | Reply
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