One of the most renowned voices in the world of meat production says there’s a battle taking place for the future of the livestock industry.
On the one hand, there are people including Tom Hayes, the outgoing chief executive officer of Tyson Foods Inc., who represents a side of the meat industry that may be considered more “progressive,” according to Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. Hayes and others are working to change livestock production to account more for animal welfare.
On the other side are veterans of the industry, Grandin said. They have produced meat for decades with time-tested methods and don’t see why things have to change. Some feel that their integrity is being questioned when ideas for new methods are discussed, she said Monday at a press briefing at the Women in Agribusiness Summit in Denver.
Who will prevail? That may be partially driven by consumers, Grandin said.
If animal science had rock stars, Grandin would be Bob Dylan. In her four decades in the industry, she developed innovative equipment and analysis techniques that redesigned slaughterhouses to reduce stress on animals. She worked with Cargill Inc. and other major meat producers and helped manage supplies for buyers including McDonald’s Corp.
She has written bestsellers and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most-influential people in 2010. Also an autism advocate, Grandin was the subject of a 2010 biopic that starred Claire Danes.
Meat production in the U.S. may go the way of beer, Grandin said, referring to the thriving microbrewery industry in Fort Collins, where Colorado State University is based. Niche markets, such as pasture-raised chickens, will become more prominent and expand alongside large-scale commercial operations.
“What’s going to drive things in the future is going to be that consumers will drive buyers,” she said, citing giant meat purchasers such fast-food companies.
Changing consumer tastes are starting to transform traditional commodity meat production rapidly as more people express concerns over the environment, animal welfare and healthy eating.
Some of the largest food companies have taken steps to meet those demands.
McDonald’s, one of the world’s biggest buyers of beef, plans to source more than 20 million of its Angus burgers in Canada over the next year from farms and ranches that have been certified sustainable. Tyson Foods, the top U.S. meat company, bought organic chicken producer Tecumseh Poultry earlier this year. Alternatives to meat, whether from plants or grown in labs, have emerged as hot trends.
“There’s a fight going on between the people that know we’ve got to move the industry forward and the people that just are living in the box,” Grandin said. “The industry’s got to let the more progressive people win, or they’re going to be in trouble.”