Inside D.C.

Stop the videos!!!

It baffles me how B List animal rights groups like Mercy for Animals (MFA) still find farms where they can shoot “undercover” video exposing bad behavior. The latest small screen debut was shot on a “family farm” in the Southwest in August and released this month.  It’s supremely frustrating given how many speakers have showed up at how many industry meetings to warn producers they’re at risk.

How many times must farmers and ranchers be warned that no farm, no matter how rural, no matter how remote, no matter how large or small, is safe from invasion?  And how many times do all producers need to be reminded there’s no excuse available to a U.S. farmer or rancher – none, nada, zero, zip – for bad animal care and/or handling?

We all can tick off the list of doctored animal rights videos gleefully delivered to the media.  We all know the animal rights movement will do just about anything to get itself into the news and paint ag broadly with the broadest negative brush.  Then why would any producer through ignorance or stupidity aid and abet the crazies?

Producers must remember:  If you sell milk, beef, pork, eggs or poultry there’s a big buyer/big retailer at the other end of the chain, vulnerable to public relations pressure and corporate blackmail.   Even if the video is faked, these folks are almost guaranteed to cave to the pressure should “the brand” be threatened.  That means you’re off the supplier list.

This latest video – by MFA’s claim, its sixth shot on a dairy farm – begs a bigger question: How do owners stay ignorant of such behavior, and how does the industry writ large tolerate the actions depicted in these videos?  Where’s the outrage? Where’s the employment screening?  Where’s the animal handling training?  Where’s the supervision?  Who’s in charge?

The bottom line is this:  If you’re truly a good producer; if you’re truly a professional and if you truly care about animal welfare, then anyone with a video camera should be able to walk into your operation and walk out with zero footage of inhumane treatment or bad actors.

It’s not enough for an owner to be “shocked and appalled” such video was obtained on his/her operation.  It’s not enough for a producer, indicted by the media with such visuals, to get all self-righteous, telling the press, “Of course, we don’t tolerate this behavior.”  In the end, obviously someone was allowing this to happen if only through ignorance or misplaced trust. In the case of a farm or ranch – just like any other business – bad stuff runs up hill; the owner is ultimately responsible for what happens on and is produced by his/her farm.

I’m also surprised, given the number of videos shot on dairies and the increasing attacks of animal rightists on tail docking, handling downer cattle, dehorning, and so on, the folks at World Dairy Expo and other major industry meetings this year aren’t offering some kind of presentation/workshop/breakout session on video-proofing your farm, messaging, how to screen folks to avoid hiring someone with access to your entire operation, someone who’s lied about his/her identity, and who’s only there to make your worst nightmare a reality.  “We did a session like that last year,” is no excuse; as long as videos keep appearing, the need to remind and reeducate is apparent.

I’m sure there’s a whole lot of folks out there who’ve read this blog and are seriously ticked at me.  Aren’t you supposed to be a champion for modern, technology-based ag?  Aren’t you supposed to “defend” farmers and ranchers from animal rights attacks?  Aren’t you supposed to be one of those folks who can explain away these videos?

Right on all three counts, but those industry service only extend to the innocent victim of fraud and unfounded allegation.

Wake up!  It’s a royal pain the rear, but you must walk your operation routinely with an eye toward how a consumer or, in a worst case situation, a government investigator would view your farm or ranch. No matter how large your farm or how many “satellite operations” you run, every day there should be at least one unannounced walk-through so someone in charge can view how things are actually done, not just how they’re supposed to be done.

On hiring, screen every man and woman hired for any job, no matter how lowly the position.  Hiring day labor or part-timers “who just don’t understand how to handle animals” is no excuse; it’s your job to train them and make sure the training sticks.  You need screening and welfare handling training, and you need to impress upon every single employee – no matter how long they’ve worked with/for you – on a regular basis that you, as the owner, will not under any circumstance tolerate any animal mishandling or abuse. They must understand if you find bad acting, you’ll not only fire those responsible, you may report them to authorities.

A last message to those out there fuming at me; it’s more a reminder, really:  All it takes is one bad actor to spoil it for everyone.  So far, for dairy at least, MFA has found six.

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