CSU professor Temple Grandin.

(Courtesy Rosalie Winard)

This story originally aired July 16, 2016. 

What if slaughterhouses had glass walls?

Animals rights activists think there would be more vegetarians if that was the case. It is also partially why they film and release undercover videos of animal abuse.

Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin has advocated transparency as well, but for a different reason. She thinks the meat industry should show off the progress it has made on animal welfare, progress which Grandin has contributed to.

Earlier this year, Grandin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for her work with animals and for her advocacy on autism. Grandin, who has autism, relates both her condition and that advocacy to the work she does with animals.

"I'm a visual thinker," says Grandin. "When I talk about animal handling, I see them walking though the system. Animals don't think in words. It's sensory based. What is it seeing, smelling, hearing?"

Grandin spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Highlights from the conversation are below. Click the audio above to listen to the full interview.

Grandin on how the U.S. meat industry has improved:

"I've been in this industry for 40 years, and the 1980s and the 1990s were really bad. Then, in 1999, I was hired by McDonald's Corporation to implement that animal welfare auditing [system]. I saw more change that year than the 25 years prior to that.

"We used a simple five-point scoring system. Percentage of cattle shot with a single shot, if they didn't make 95 percent, they failed. You had to have 100 percent dead when you hang them up on the rail. No more than 1 percent falling. No more than three cattle in a hundred mooing on the stun box... And that scoring system went across the industry. Other companies like Wendy's immediately started working on it. It has improved a whole lot. And then in the last five years, USDA [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] has gotten more strict."

On where the industry still has work to do:

"The slaughterhouses, or meat plants, or harvest facilities, as some people like to call them... have really gotten good. They've gotten so good they're not going to get much better. And where we're gonna have to make some changes is some of the problems I see coming into the slaughterhouses. Most dairies are bringing their old dairy cows in when they're still in good enough shape. There's a few people that allow cattle to deteriorate to very bad conditions before they're brought in. There's been some issues with lameness in beef cattle for various reasons. Another issue is extremely wild cattle." 

On why grazing livestock sometimes hide their pain:

"Cattle and sheep... will sometimes not show the features of pain when you're watching because you don't want to advertise to the wolves or the lion, if you're a grazing animal, that you're hurt. And I saw a situation where... some big bulls [were castrated] and I hid in the scale house. And when the bull came out of the chute, he didn't know I was in the scale house. He was rolling around on the ground moaning, definitely showing pain. I walked out of that scale house, and he immediately jumped up and acted normal."