Food Engineering

Now is the time to do the right thing

August 5, 2004
I am sure most of you reacted with horror as you learned about the animal abuse reports last month at Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant. I certainly did.

Abusive acts are often the result of a person trying to gain power where they feel powerless. I have to wonder if the plant workers in question feel powerless in their jobs or in their personal lives. Are they dissatisfied with their paychecks? Do they understand the company policies on humane animal treatment? Are they properly supervised?

None of these questions excuses the abusive acts, but it brings up another issue that could have repercussions for the entire food industry.

As the food industry struggles to slice even more out of very thin margins, customers are continuing to ask for more. That translates into more control over both food and beverage processing plants as well as the products delivered. Today's customers want to provide input on everything from plant food safety policies to packaging choices and, of course, lower prices.

In light of the animal abuse case in West Virginia and increasing customer demands, I am beginning to wonder if customer plant visits will be replaced in the future by 24/7 plant monitoring by customers through video cameras or permanent on-site customer inspectors. Let's hope things never get that far.

In response to the abuse incident, Pilgrim's Pride did the right thing by stopping all lines to make sure their employees understand company policies on humane animal processing. The company also required signatures from every employee working with live animals indicating that he or she reaffirms their understanding of company policies. In addition, the poultry processor hired one of the world's leading experts in animal welfare, Temple Grandin, to evaluate its Moorefield, West Virginia, plant and review animal welfare practices.

Could the violence have been prevented? Yes, probably through stricter supervision. But Freudian psychologists believe that the penchant for violent behavior comes from the id. In Freudian theory, id is the division of the psyche that is totally unconscious and serves as the source of instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs.

It looks like some people may need their consciousness raised in regard to animal treatment. In any case, the problem, as well as the financial responsibility to fix it, falls back on the food industry to thoroughly train, screen and supervise employees so no more harm is done. More monitoring may seem like cruel and unusual financial punishment thrust upon the food industry's already thin margins, but it's the right thing to do.