“Animals feel pain. They feel fear,” says Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. “I eat meat, but I feel very strongly that we have to give them a decent life.”

Earning her marks

That conviction has made Grandin one of the most influential figures in animal welfare. Since the 1990s, she has designed facilities and established standards that greatly reduce the suffering of livestock such as cows and pigs, accomplishments that earned her recognition as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010.

"Animals feel pain. They feel fear."

Grandin’s impact in this field is inextricably linked to her autism, which has given her an unusual ability to understand what animals see, anticipate how they will react to what they see and design facilities that will make them less fearful.

“It’s amazing what you can do with lighting,” she says. “Pigs and cattle are scared of the dark. So I put a light on the entrance of the chute and they'd go right in.”

New battles

But design alone isn’t enough. “Management has to make a decision that people are going to handle animals correctly,” she says emphatically. “It needs to be very clear about acts of abuse.”

While the meat industry has seen vast improvements in animal handling, transport and slaughter, Grandin says, “Other issues with housing are a lot more contentious.”

One such issue is the use of gestation crates. Pregnant pigs are confined for months at a time in individual steel pens that are so small and constrictive, the animals can’t even turn around. The practice has been banned in Europe and in nine states of the U.S. because of its cruelty. Yet a majority of U.S. pork farms still use gestation crates.

ANIMAL ALLY: Grandin's mission is to ensure that every animal has the houseing and treatment that will promise "a life worth living."

Curbing crate use

The good news is that more farms are using alternatives, such as group housing for pigs. “It requires a higher degree of stockmanship to make group housing work,” Grandin says. For example, a “hog whisperer” needs to train pigs to use electronic feeding stations, and computer skills are required to keep those stations running.

"Until gestation crates are banned by law in the U.S.," says Grandin, “what's going to drive a lot of things in the future is the customer. Young people are getting more concerned about where their food comes from.” That puts pressure on food producers to adopt more humane practices. And that leads to the ultimate goal for animals, in Grandin’s eyes, “A life worth living.”