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PART II     Kill Them With Kindness    Page  1  2  3  4  5

Back At the Slaughterhouse

Back at the Excel slaughterhouse, Grandin has almost finished her inspection. She says this plant's improved tremendously since the first time she checked it. The plant manager, Mike Chabot, says Grandin has changed too.

Excel Slaughterhouse's Inspection Results (PDF format)
An example of Temple Grandin's innovative system to measure brutality. The black splotches on the photocopied form are blood stains from the slaughterhouse.

"She's really grown," explains Chabot. "I've got to say that. When I first started working with her in 1988, she would not let a male that she did not know very, very well within about three feet of her. Human beings scared Temple. But you look at what she does now for a living, she travels the world, she speaks to groups of people, she's opened up her life so much."

Now, Grandin heads up a ramp to check the most important place in the slaughterhouse: she's going to the killing platform. And the executive from McDonald's says they will not allow me to record it. He says if listeners hear cattle dying, they might get upset at McDonald's. He says I can stand with Grandin on the killing platform, and just watch. It turns out that he doesn't need to worry: on this day, the cattle die without making a sound.

Grandin designed the ramp that takes the cattle to their deaths, and now people all over the industry use her nickname for it— The stairway to heaven. Photo: ©Rosalie Winard

Grandin designed this system herself. The cows walk into the plant single file, up a curved ramp—she says curves comfort cattle, it makes them think they're going back home. Then, as they're moseying along, the animals ease onto a conveyor (they don't even seem to notice), a moving harness cradles their stomachs and ribs, and lifts them gently off the floor. Suddenly, a man presses a machine between the next cow's eyes, there's a pop, and a retractable bolt shoots into the steer's brain; and the animal slumps, silently. Grandin says when she started these audits a few years ago; the workers who shoot the bolts were missing, a lot. In fact, federal inspectors cited this slaughterhouse for skinning animals that were still alive, although Excel executives disputed the charges. On this day, the slaughterhouse gets a perfect score.

More Peaceful Than Nature

As Temple Grandin drives home from the plant, we're heading straight for the Rocky Mountains. The sun is melting on the peaks, and they're turning from gold to red to pink.

"You know,' says Grandin, "when an animal dies in a well-run slaughter plant, it's much more peaceful than out in nature. People forget that it is a harsh world out there. Animals could die in a snowstorm. There could be a drought and they could starve to death, or get eaten up by predators. If I was an animal, I'd rather go to a slaughter plant than have my guts dined on while I was still alive."

And Grandin says most of the slaughterhouses that she has been inspecting treat animals much better today than they did when McDonald's started the program. She says industry executives are finally realizing that killing animals humanely can be good for business — literally. McDonald's dumped at least one supplier that flunked Grandin's inspection; the company has warned others they better improve. And studies show that if animals are calm when they're slaughtered, they produce fewer hormones, so they produce better quality meat. So now other fast food chains are hiring Grandin to inspect their slaughterhouses too.

Grandin says she's not a religious person, exactly, but she's come to feel that killing animals is a sacred act — she says they're not factory parts, they're living beings.

"And another reason to make sure we're not doing atrocious things at the slaughter plant is that if it is too easy to do something really atrocious to an animal—with the poor animal screaming and everything—the person who could do that might not have any problem torturing people," says Grandin. "I remember one of the reasons that St. Thomas Aquinas said that we have to treat animals right is so that people themselves don't get corrupted."

When Grandin designed the ramp that takes the cattle to their deaths, she gave it a nickname, and now people all over the industry use it—"the stairway to heaven."

She got the name from one of her favorite songs; by the rock group Led Zeppelin. She takes a cassette out from the bin between the seats, pops it in and sings along.

"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven," Grandin sings, driving home from the Excel slaughterhouse on the plains of Colorado.

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