Former Butterball COO Joe Nalley spoke with The National Provisioner editor-in-chief Andy Hanacek as he retires after 46 years about a variety of topics in the industry. Watch all videos here. In the sixth and final part of the series, Nalley discusses animal care and animal handling, including how new scientific research has improved animal care and how companies can combat the negative press for the industry as a whole when one company gets caught doing the wrong thing.
Andy Hanacek: Joe, thanks again for joining me. A topic that has definitely seen a lot of attention over the last 40, 30, 20 years even is animal handling and animal care. It has changed light years. Not that the industry was doing a terrible job 40 years ago or anything like that, but some of the advancements, not just in technology, but the renewed and improved focus on animal care. Also the messaging the industry has taken… what has amazed you the most in your career and in the last 40 years in terms of animal care and animal handling?
Joe Nalley: Probably what has amazed me the most is that… no one ever really wants to see an animal suffer. No one wants to hurt an animal, but industry practices, standard practices were just sort of accepted as being OK, and there was some concern about the whole economics of making changes better if you allow more square feet per animal or whatever it may be. But at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do. As human beings, we have an obligation to treat the animals humanely and with respect. It seems to me in the last 10 years, even the last five years, there’s been lots of renewed focus there. I’d say it reminds of what happened with associate safety. Again, it feels to me like that started to be a top priority for folks back in the ’80s. No one ever wanted to see anyone get hurt, but as a real process that was top down driven with the heads or companies and the owners of companies getting committed and involved, that’s what we’ve seen on animal care and wellbeing. As well it should be. The industry has taken a hard look at itself and some needed changes have been made and there’s more focus today than there ever has been. It is top driven, and just the whole idea of how do you move cattle or hogs from a truck in through the different loading stations into the plant has just changed dramatically. And it needed to. The same way with handling turkeys or chickens. It was eye-opening to everyone I think to take a hard look at what we were doing and how we were doing it.
Hanacek: Do you think that the renewed focus was spurred along by maybe more science being put behind it and things like that? I wasn’t in the industry 40 years ago, but was it at that time more of “this is the way we have always done it; we know how to take care of the animals; we want to take care of the animals” and then over time, folks like Temple Grandin and folks like that stepped in and put some real science and real knowledge behind it and said “look, you’ve been doing it this way—that’s not wrong—but maybe this way is better.” Have you seen kind of an evolution of science there?
Nalley: Absolutely. Temple Grandin has been quite the pioneer in the whole animal care and wellbeing. Farmers and ranchers have always cared about their animals, and they have understood how you do certain things and how not to do certain things, but I think as the industry has grown and there’s been more consolidation, we’ve lost sight a little of—I don’t know how to say this—animal think, but how is the animal perceiving some of these things. Things such as bright lights being confusing or causing animals to stop as opposed to feeling comfortable going forward. That’s really just common sense, but I don’t know that we thought about that until, as you said, some of the real science started to come up and it was demonstrated and shown to us how it could be done better. It doesn’t cost money; it saves money. We found the same thing with employee safety. That’s not a cost center. Besides being the right thing to do, it’s an opportunity to be more efficient and save money.
Hanacek: I think what ends up happening nowadays is you have a couple of bad apples that occasionally get caught doing something they shouldn’t, whether it be animal care or even worker safety or food safety. From your perspective as you leave the industry, what’s your biggest piece of advice for companies that are doing it the right way in terms of weathering the storm when those bad apples get caught, because if a turkey processor who isn’t doing things the right way gets caught, there’s no doubt that even if that company is branded X Company, Y Company, whether it be Butterball, they are going to be affected, because the consumer looks at the turkey industry in general. How does Butterball or Company Y weather the storm best or try to make Company X do a better job? Or can they?
Nalley: That will be a challenge. A guy that I reported to when I was with OSI Industries for a while told me in all honesty one time, he was frustrated with someone—it was a joint venture partner he was trying to get to do something different. He said, “I’ve always had a problem getting people to do what I want them to do when they don’t report to me.” I thought, “Well, you know what, you’re right. It is hard to do that.” So what you bring up is going to be a challenge, but I think for the leaders in beef, pork, turkey, whatever it is, keep doing it the right way, be more transparent, get people involved, help people understand the value in doing it the right way, and then I don’t think there’s room to defend folks that are doing it the wrong way. I certainly don’t have any tolerance for some of the undercover stuff that’s done where things are shown in the worst possible perspective, maybe even staged from time to time, but when a bad actor is caught being a bad actor, the industry should react to that.
Check out the rest of our video series with former Butterball COO Joe Nalley!