Years ago, whenever I saw one of the undercover videos that animal rights groups release, I was sure I was watching torture to farm animals. My heart would beat like I had just finished a marathon and my eyes would sting with fury as I watched the poor animals endure so much pain. How was this kind of cruelty taking place on American farms!? I wanted an answer and I told myself I would eat a salad instead of a burger every chance I got. At least that’s what my naive self thought before I became interested in agriculture and learned the truth.
Undercover videos are one of the most powerful tactics that animal rights groups use in an attempt to portray animal abuse on farms. The thing is, the tactic is a lot more unethical than you probably think.
As part of my job I am responsible for researching animal rights groups and their campaigns. I was recently researching exactly how many undercover videos the Alliance has on file that resulted in convictions. As I was going through all 82 cases* and reading the background information on what allegedly happened in each facility, I couldn’t help but question how much abuse actually happens in agriculture. What the videos claimed to be describing would make any human squirm in their seat.
What’s really going on?
Then I reminded myself that these activist groups have a specific agenda and don’t care that they are spreading lies to get what they want. Out of all 82 videos only six cases resulted in convictions*. This one fact makes the point that what undercover videos capture is not always animal abuse. It may not always be pretty to the eye of someone outside of agriculture, but it is not abuse.
Although they are meant to end up in grocery stores, farmers, scientists and industry experts are continuously working to ensure the animal is treated as humanely as possible.
Just last month Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group, posted an undercover video from a chicken processing facility in which they claimed showed “horrific animal abuse.” An expert panel comprised of a veterinarian, an animal scientist and an ethicist reviewed the video and said that there was no animal abuse.
“If people want to eat meat, we must kill animals,” Dr. Chuck Hofacre, the veterinarian on the panel, said. “Some of the process isn’t camera friendly – it’s not pretty. There are systems and processes in place to make sure it’s carried out in a humane manner.”
The different protein groups (poultry, beef, dairy, pork, goat, sheep) have programs in place addressing animal care. The National Dairy FARM Program and the Beef Quality Assurance program are two examples.
As this thought came to mind, I realized that if I work in the agriculture industry and am a true advocate for it, what would the average person who doesn’t have the background knowledge to remind themselves of all this think?
Unfortunately, media and consumers often take the videos at face value. They don’t ask questions and the activist groups have won their donation and support.
Animal rights groups get people to apply for a job at a farm or processing facility and act as if they are genuinely interested in the job, but in reality are plotting how they can hurt the company by filming what they see as animal abuse.
These workers who are hired to do a specific task on the farm choose to be negligent and film what they think is abuse instead. Sometimes the consequences of them not doing the job they were hired to do leads to things not getting done properly and animals get hurt, all in the name of animal rights.
Why do we never hear from the undercover investigators who “worked” at the farm? It’s because they find an excuse to disappear months before the video surfaces. Wonder why?
One thing I bet you didn’t realize is that in the case that actual animal abuse does occur, the undercover investigators don’t report the incident immediately. Nope. They continue to film the abuse for weeks and sometimes even months at a time just to provide the animal rights groups with a PR campaign to further their vegan agenda.
How do undercover videos affect the farmer?
Animal activists commonly single out corporations that the farm supplies to in order to get as much attention as possible, which causes a misrepresentation of the agriculture industry to spread. The videos are just a tactic that pressures farmers and corporations to cave into activist demands in order to make the negative attention disappear, even if what is being demanded isn’t what science says is best for the animals’ health.
You may see free-range as hens roaming in big, green pastures, but agriculturalists see it as a threat to the birds’ safety. An open pasture means open for everyone including predators and diseases, making the birds look like free prey.
Now don’t get me wrong, in the case that animal abuse actually does happen, it is horrible and the animal agriculture industry does not condone it by any means.
The emotional toll farmers take from the impact the videos have is crucial. It takes a strong connection to animals for farmers to devote their life to them 24/7/356 year after year. Despite how passionate farmers are about their work, there is a reluctance to even respond to the videos that do show abuse. The industry as a whole doesn’t want to give credibility where credibility isn’t due. If we give them credibility, then videos that capture humane, industry standard practices will seem more credible to someone who thinks a cow or chicken is just like their cat or dog.
What should you do when you see undercover videos?
These videos are not a representative sample of what actually does happen on farms across the United States. So what should people do when another undercover video surfaces? Don’t judge a book by its cover, or rather a farm by its undercover video. Be realistic and ask yourself if what you’re viewing is actual abuse or a humane process that just doesn’t look like a bouquet of roses.
If you have questions or concerns with what’s happening on farms, ask a farmer. I’ll have a future blog post providing guidance on ways you can easily get in contact with someone who would be glad to answer your questions!
*Statistics included is this post are as of April 10, 2015.
All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.