"Meat Processing" is the latest issue of the Kansas School Naturalist (available free upon request). This issue follows livestock from unloading through the meat processing plant to final packaging for your grocery store. Co-authored with Professor Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, a recognized expert in the humane handling of animals, this KSN fully illustrates all stages: from avoiding stressing animals in unloading to stunning to final packaging.
There are two responses to the copies that have been distributed so far. The older generations of Kansans flip through the booklet and matter-of-factly state: “Yep. That is where our meat comes from.” Some remember butcher knives at home and how their grandparents processed meat in the winter.
The second response from many—but not all—younger Kansans is quite different. Except for farm kids who show their livestock at the annual county fairs (and sign “intent to sell statements), many younger Kansans do not know where their meat comes from.
Animals are a big part of Kansas. Most people know that agriculture and aviation are two big drivers of the Kansas economy. But many do not realize that from Manhattan across to Kansas City is an animal research corridor. Major animal testing in pharmaceutical research and for FDA and environmental safety protocols is conducted at facilities that few passers-by notice.
This animal research is done in Kansas and not on the East or West Coasts. Folks in California and Florida simply do not know where their food comes from. They are easy targets for organizations that would stop all biomedical animal research and have everyone become vegetarian. But Kansas is a fortress for this research that protects the environment from dangerous chemicals and develops drugs that help humans and animals alike. The animal industry is here because many Kansans are only a relative or two away from the beef industry. Most know where their meat comes from.
But unless things change, this will not be true for long.
I have nothing good to say about lawyers for several major meat processing companies. The big processing plants are essentially locked down with no opportunity for students to see their operation. The older generation of Kansans understood meat processing by directly observing it—indeed, by doing it! No booklet, pictures, or video can provide the full understanding gained by direct experience.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the legal suits at the big processors have chosen to seal up their plants. This makes it difficult to counter the charges made by animal extremists. Such secrecy makes kids think that conditions must be really bad.
As Temple Grandin puts it: "We’ve got to show what we do. We’ve got to get over being bashful. Professionals in the meat packing industry need to show stuff done right." She continues: "If you don’t show kids interesting stuff, they won’t get interested in interesting stuff."
If the big meat packers can overcome their shyness, our science teachers face a second hurdle. Field trips for science experiences have been dramatically curtailed. Cost is a small reason. The teach-to-the-test curriculum is the big reason. It keeps our good teachers from taking our students to an important learning experience. Local school boards can solve this problem.
The third problem is also educational. The current Kansas science education standards have very few references to animals or anatomy. But if the Kansas State Board of Education adopts the Next Generation Science Standards, there will be absolutely no secondary school science standards related to animals or anatomy. Teachers trying to justify a field trip will have nothing to back them up.
Thirty years from now, Kansas can remain a beef state and the center of animal research. Or we can be buying our meat from Asia, where our animal research will also be conducted. The choice is in the hands of our meat processing industry and our educational policy makers.