Once again, videos taken either on farms or in processing facilities by activists on behalf of various animal rights groups have gained the media spotlight. The images portray indefensible acts of animal cruelty, and although isolated incidents, cause the public to think negatively about the agriculture industry as a whole. The Animal Agriculture Alliance wishes to remind producers and processors that it is absolutely essential that all businesses and individuals responsible for the care of animals do the right thing, and do it right now!
Doing the right thing is simple: Always provide the best care and handling of your animals—all the time.
The best way to do that is to:
Implement animal care policies and guidelines. Every national producer group offers their animal care guidelines on their Web sites or you can find the link to them at www.animalagalliance.org.
Train your employees on the best animal handling techniques and insist that they follow the guidelines; Go one step further and have them sign a company statement indicating their understanding of your policies and commitment to proper animal care and treatment.
Hold all employees accountable for carrying out your policies.
Provide an environment in which employees feel comfortable reporting anyone out of compliance with your policies.
Implement self-audit programs, and if at all possible, hire a credentialed third party to also conduct an audit for your company. There are a number of audit programs available today.
Take one extra step to surely prevent you from being surprised by improper behavior—conduct your own "undercover" investigations to ensure that your policies are indeed being followed.
What appeared to be happening at Hallmark/Westland was the wrong thing, and it cost them everything. It's beyond unfortunate that not all companies seem to have learned from their extreme lesson.
There is nothing defensible about the actions depicted in the latest video from the veal processing facility in Vermont. The Alliance is deeply saddened and disgusted by the careless actions demonstrated. We are also dismayed by the length of time between when the video was supposedly taken (August/September) and when it was presented to USDA (late October), which has authority to enforce animal welfare in processing facilities. It's very disturbing that the video was not immediately shared in order to take action to stop the mistreatment rather than waiting until potentially months later.
If an investigation finds the actions and the video to be valid, we believe that the severest penalties allowed by law should be imposed on all parties involved in carrying out the cruel actions, as well as those who failed to stop it, and knowingly failed to report it immediately to the proper authorities.
As bad as the actions in the video are, we are confident this video represents the exception—rather than the norm—within the food animal industry.
There are several lessons to be learned from this incident and others that have been aired on YouTube and in numerous news stories throughout the past few years:
You must review your own animal handling practices to ensure that the strategies that you use are the right ones. Think about it from the perspective of a typical consumer to see what could be improved. Act as if you are being videotaped for public viewing 24/7.
Hold your employees accountable for following your company policies.
Review your hiring practices to know who you're hiring—to ensure their skills and abilities meet your needs and expectations, and to ensure they're there for the right reason—to help your business be the best it can be (or if they're there to exploit your business).
Every company, individual farmer and rancher, and employee involved in animal agriculture must look at these recent incidents and understand that they could be next.
The fact that the Humane Society of the United States had one of its employees gain employment solely in hopes of obtaining undercover video of mishandling of animals is not the exception. There are many other animal rights organizations that use similar strategies to infiltrate animal agriculture operations. We don't know what other companies they will next be targeting, but we do know that they will continue. Your company may be one. It is in your best interest to do the right thing, and do it now!
For years, the Alliance has provided sound security tips to assist in developing thorough security and crisis management plans. You can find Vigilance is Key, an article encouraging proper security strategies, on the Alliance Web site. Gold members of the Alliance can also find a more thorough report titled Facility Security Recommendations Report on our Web site's Members section. Others can obtain a copy by contacting the Alliance.
These pieces should be on your "must-read" list. Maybe you think Hallmark/Westland or Bushway Packing are just the unlucky ones—but once you are targeted, and if there's anything to capture on video, the resulting costs will far exceed your small investment in time needed to take proactive actions.
All of these real incidents are preventable—even some of those that have been staged. The Hallmark/Westland executives probably now think about that old cliché, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Unfortunately, there is no cure now for Hallmark/Westland and other companies that have chosen to not do the right thing.
We will leave you with one last thought...how many Hallmark/Westland or Bushway Packing employees, or USDA inspectors, knew what was happening prior to the infamous videos being released? How many of them did the right thing in stopping mistreatment or poor handling of the animals? Unfortunately, the apparent answer is none.
Take this as a simple challenge from the Animal Agriculture Alliance to stop these incidents from happening: Do the right thing, and do it right now!