A recent video from a large BC dairy farm showing animal abuse should come as another wake-up call to the animal agriculture industry. Considering the sensitivity of such images and their negative impact on the public, one wonders why everyone in the industry isn’t highly attuned to the issue. No doubt employees and managers at such operations have now been reminded of the consequences of animal abuse practices – as they should. But I expect complacency sets in at many large livestock operations until the next abuse case is exposed.
Livestock organizations have spent years developing animal handling and management codes of practice in an effort to provide a culture of quality and humane animal care in the industry. But human nature is difficult to manage and frustration and anger can all too easily overcome common sense in difficult handling situations. However, it has been shown that can be changed if it involves such measures as electronic surveillance. Some large packing operations and livestock sales facilities have installed cameras to keep track of how live animals are being handled by their employees. Employees are aware of the consequences and handling is much improved. For such operations, there is a side benefit – more humane handling results in less stressed animals and less bruising – that’s a financial benefit.
Animal behaviourists such as Temple Grandin have greatly assisted by designing handling facilities that resolve bottlenecks and encourage safe and quiet animal movement. To take advantage of such progress, perhaps any new or renovated livestock facility should be required to install only approved humane handling equipment and layouts. That would be a proactive approach to hopefully avoid another incident. For livestock and poultry under supply management, this type of process should be easy to implement. In fact, some of the poultry boards have already taken such an approach with improved cage systems and unique shipping practices.
Then there is the more draconian side of the story and it’s encouraged, maybe forced, the poultry and hog industries to make handling changes. Fast food and grocery chains are now demanding that changes be made, and the genesis of those demands in many cases were shocking animal abuse videos. The reality is that in today’s global instant social media world, such videos are dynamite. The worst consequence of the recent BC case is that even though it may be isolated, it gets the instant attention of major buyers and probably confirms any suspicions they might have about existing animal handling practices. They probably don’t have a lot time for excuses and they want action, being they are the ones that have to deal directly with the consuming public and fear-mongering animal rights lobby groups.
Having said that, one has to consider the role of animal rights extremist organizations and their nefarious role in fear-mongering about animal agriculture. It has to be said that most such groups have no real concern for the welfare of animals in commercial agriculture. They want to eliminate food animal agriculture and will utilize any means they can to achieve that end. Obtaining undercover videos of animal abuse is a tried and true practice and garners instant media attention and fodder to encourage more donations to their cause. The fair counter position is – if abuse didn’t occur in the first place, such videos wouldn’t be obtained.
It should be noted that extremist groups have no reluctance to provoke incidents, to alter and manipulate scenes and to do whatever it takes to create an incriminating video. For them it’s just part of their business. One of the more notorious cases of such devious activities involved a now defunct horse processing plant in Saskatchewan where it was determined that some of the scenes in an alleged abuse video could not have happened due to discrepancies in the handling process. But the PR damage was done as TV media outlets, ever hungry for sensationalism, were unwilling to confirm the facts.
Comments have been made that large livestock operations need to better screen prospective employees to avoid undercover agents. That’s fair enough; such folks can be very subversive to the well-being of any working environment. They could even be involved in provoking abuse situations where they may not ordinarily occur. Be that as it may, trying to cull out suspected undercover employees is no excuse for not maintaining an abuse-free livestock operation. Being pro-active is the best course as extremist groups are sure to continue their covert activities to discredit animal agriculture.
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