Aug. 3 2012 11:17 AM

Temple Grandin gives an educated crowd an opportunity to rethink their opinions.

by Lucas Sjostrom, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

In Raleigh, N.C., North America's finest natural cheesemakers are meeting this week for the American Cheese Society's (ACS) annual conference and cheese competition. Unlike the commodity milk market, these cheesemakers have their own brands, create their own product and also take on the full risk of selling their product.

The high-risk and high-reward business brought together nearly 600 of these cheesemakers, distributors and retailers to talk about the safety of raw milk cheeses (it requires 60-day aging without pasteurization), strategies for promoting cheese and, of course, cheese tasting. Here, the cheesemakers are the rock stars. The event ends with a huge cheese sale and tasting Saturday evening.

Grandin compares science and ethics
At Thursday's opening session, Temple Grandin, Colorado State University's world-renown animal welfare researcher, spoke about her career and then spent 30 minutes answering questions from a curious crowd trying to discover where they stand. Questions came from all levels of animal knowledge and often conflicted with opinions of the average dairy producer.

Throughout her speech and answers, Grandin told the crowd she had no issues with foods that used genetically modified organisms, milk with rBST and suggested there was no real advantage to organic foods. She did note, however, that both genetics and management work together to create a humane environment.

"It isn't large or small," contended Grandin. "Bad management is bad management."
She noted that she was very disturbed by the high incidence of lameness in the dairy industry and hoped farmers worked quickly to rectify it.

It was truly amazing for this kind of crowd to hear a science-based speaker like Grandin. Some of the natural cheese world's biggest buyers must have heard their standards might not be the best thing for the animals or the environment. Whether it will have an impact is hard to predict, but the fact that this crowd cared to ask the questions shows that we have a very interested audience in the artisan cheese world.

As the questions got more specific, Grandin explained that no one type of system is better than another. When asked if free stalls were better, Grandin noted that they could be, but some tie stalls are just as well-managed. She advocated that cows should be let outside during the summer if they're kept in tie stalls. She admitted this was not a science-based fact but an ethical opinion.

Next, Temple Grandin explained to the crowd that science and ethics are two different debates. For example, she disagrees with gestation stalls for sows. She said even though the science shows that both sows and piglets do better in the stalls, her ethical opinion is that they should be in group housing. Two-thirds of the general public agrees with that opinion, Grandin said. Further, in her conversations with pig growers who switched to group housing, Grandin said they were surprised how well their animals did in group housing and wondered why they didn't do it years ago.

In Grandin's class at Colorado State, she ends each semester with the same question she shared with the ACS crowd. "If you know that cloning a human in a certain way will produce birth defects, I think most people would agree we shouldn't do it," explained Grandin. "But if you can solve that problem, then the question is should we clone humans?"

Grandin didn't offer her opinion on the subject but used the question to show the crowd that there is a place for ethics in determining animal management practices. I tend to agree with her. Where do you stand?