“What will happen if we show them what we do?”  That was a question the American Meat Institute (AMI) and its meat-packer members asked as they sought to improve transparency and build customer trust. Speaking to the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholder Summit this week, Janet Riley, AMI’s senior VP for public affairs and professional development, offered some answers to the question.

Glass walls at the packing plantAnimal-rights activists often say if slaughter houses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians. AMI decided to test that theory by launching their “Glass Walls Project” in 2012. Noting that public trust in large corporations has plummeted in recent years and that consumers increasingly demand more information about food production, Riley says AMI approached Colorado State University professor and animal-handling expert Temple Grandin, PhD, to record videos of the entire livestock-slaughter process.

Last year, AMI taped the unscripted video tour of a beef-processing plant, narrated by Dr. Grandin. They left it to Grandin to select a representative plant at which to film. AMI tested the initial video with consumer focus groups, not knowing what to expect in terms of reactions. Most of the test viewers were surprised by the safety measures for workers, efficiency of operation and the humane treatment of animals. There were a few points of confusion, which the producers addressed by expanding the explanations in the video, which they released in August 2012.

Since then, more than 45,000 people have viewed the video, and feedback from consumers, teachers and media has been mostly positive. Next week, AMI will release another video tour, this time of pork slaughter. Riley previewed part of the video for the audience, showing the process from loading pigs at the farm, unloading at the plant, stunning and bleeding, all narrated and explained by Grandin. The video explains biosecurity measures at the farm, followed by processes and features at the plant such as non-slip floors, water in holding pens, rest periods and audit points.

AMI also has produced a brochure titled “If meat plants had glass walls … What would happen? The publication, which will be available online and in print, provides more detail, photos and questions and answers on beef and pork slaughter with Dr. Grandin.

The demand for transparency will continue to intensify, Riley says, adding that packers must show the public how their business works, rather than letting anti-meat organizations monopolize that discussion.