While the Animal Agriculture Alliance is disappointed by the images of alleged animal cruelty documented in an undercover video released in January by animal activist group Mercy for Animals (MFA), it is also dismayed that several news organizations have used footage from a single location to denounce the entire dairy industry as inhumane. The video depicts unsatisfactory conditions that are not representative of America's dairy families as a whole. The Alliance has long condemned the abuse and mistreatment of animals raised for food and works to promote animal care guidelines on all farms across the United States.
The Alliance has many concerns with the way that these types of videos are presented to the public. Often, it is difficult to determine the authenticity of the images shown. Undercover activists seek illicit employment with the goal of securing video—at any means necessary—to portray food producers in disparaging ways. Many times, the videos are held for months until they can be released at a politically-opportune time, thereby allowing any alleged animal suffering to continue. In this case, MFA's undercover activist was employed by the dairy from December 2008 through February 2009. MFA waited almost an entire year before "going public" with the video, conveniently waiting until a bill that would ban tail docking was introduced in the New York state assembly.
The video was uploaded on Youtube and received 30,000 views in just six days, generating additional coverage from Nightline, CNN, The Huffington Post and many blogs. The attention created by such videos represents a major political and fundraising tool for animal rights organizations. Like MFA, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also use clandestine videos to facilitate their final goal of eradicating animal agriculture in entirety. The ultimate objective of these groups is not to improve animal welfare but to promote their vegan agenda while running food producers out of business with legislation and bad press.
Unfortunately, activists have been able to capitalize on the fact that most people are three generations removed from the farm and haven't experienced firsthand the many ways that food producers care for their animals. Farmers and ranchers realize that consumers trust in them to provide safe, quality food products—and they take that trust seriously. Management practices are selected with animal well-being, food safety, and product quality in mind.
Most farmers and ranchers follow species-specific animal welfare guidelines to ensure that their animals are comfortable and healthy. Recently, the National Milk Producers Federation launched a comprehensive animal care guide for dairies called the National Dairy FARM Program. The program was developed by veterinarians and animal care experts and includes on-farm audits that showcase producers' commitment to animal welfare. The FARM Program specifies that actions such as tail docking and dehorning—practices which protect the animals and workers from injury and disease—should be done using proper anesthesia. Every management practice employed by farmers and ranchers serves an important purpose.
The Alliance is disconcerted by the apparent bias in reporting of the incident not only by MFA, but also by respected news outlets. All of MFA's "expert sources" that were called on to appraise the situation at the dairy have ties to the animal rights movement, including leadership positions with HSUS. This is not indicated in the report. Confusingly, reporters from major news outlets seemed to be reading scripts provided to them from MFA. While CNN's Jane Velez-Mitchell spoke harshly of the dairy on her program, viewers were not made aware that she is an outspoken animal rights advocate herself. Nightline's negative portrayal of all milk producers was also uncalled for and disappointing. The Alliance encourages those frustrated by this biased reporting to contact CNN and Nightline. Because fewer than two percent of Americans are involved in food production, it is absolutely critical that the media work to report accurate information about agriculture.
Unfounded criticisms threaten both America's farmers' and ranchers' way of life and our nation's food security. The Alliance believes that it is critical that all food producers provide the best care and handling of their animals at all times. Farm operators should implement animal care policies, carefully screen potential employees, and hold every worker accountable for their actions. It is important that consumers understand how their food is produced—not by faceless corporations, but by hardworking family farms that are committed to proper animal husbandry.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, is a broad-based coalition of individual farmers, ranchers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry scientists, veterinarians and retailers. The Alliance's mission is to communicate the important role of animal agriculture to our nation's economy, productivity, vitality and security and that animal well-being is central to producing safe, high-quality, affordable food and other products essential to our daily lives.