Humans do not like to talk about death. No one looks at it gracefully, even though everyone and everything experiences it. In the animal industry, it is also looked down upon. I’m not just referring to euthanasia for overpopulated animal shelters putting to sleep puppies and kittens. I’m talking about harvesting livestock for food consumption.
I had never actually been into a processing facility until traveling to New Zealand. This was a completely new experience that not only enlightened me on some concepts I didn’t understand before, but what the Kiwi culture values in processing meat.
We went to the Alliance Group Meat Processing Pukeuri Plant. Because of risk that the public might misconceive what they see, we were unable to take any photos at the facilities. It isn’t that they are trying to hide anything, but they want to maintain the integrity of their business.
This was the largest plant in the south island, processing 10,800 sheep, 560 slaughter cattle and between 500-2,800 veal calves per day. This is an expansive business and I determined their two top priorities: safety of their workers and animal welfare. (Reader, beware of descriptive content ahead.)
In viewing the process from beginning to end, it is clear that animal welfare is a standard not just to keep the public happy, but for the betterment of the animals and their byproducts. In both New Zealand and the U.S., rendering insensible, or causing the animal’s nervous system to no longer register pain, is used before the animal actually dies. The process is done quickly and efficiently. One unique factor during this process that this NZ facility had was a direct result of concerns for animal welfare with sheep.
In previous years, the sheep would go from the holding area to the kill floor, be rendered insensible and then the throat was slit following the Halal slaughter method. Someone who visited felt it was inhumane for the sheep to see the other in front of it being “finished off” if you will. So, the Alliance Group made an investment. They inserted a plastic flap that separates those sheep from one another.
Before this happened, Alliance did not believe it would make much impact. However, shortly after placing the flaps, the sheep were less jumpy and more relaxed. This was not just a visual observation but was also evident in their carcasses.
This visit was definitely insightful and helped me better understand the harvesting process so I can be a better communicator to people. I was blown away by the changes made from animal welfare influence.
What does this example say about the influence consumers have on animal welfare? I think a lot. We are going to continually see changes made for the betterment of livestock production. Will everyone agree? No. But, will it make a positive impact for the long run? I hope so. What do you think?