They wear two faces, two hats, one hidden video camera and have one goal: to put all farming operations that produce meat, milk and eggs out of business. Undercover animal rights activists gain employment on farms across the United States and Canada under false pretenses to help animal rights groups produce undercover video campaigns.
In the past two weeks I’ve watched more than 90 undercover videos from start to finish and researched past news coverage about each video, how the company responded and what actions were taken after the video surfaced. Sure I’ve seen undercover videos before, but this was the first time I actually sat down and not only watched, but analyzed about six hours worth of footage and media content.
Watching the edited videos filled with haunting background music was frustrating more often than not, but I’m glad I had the patience to analyze each video because I was able to find exactly what I was hoping for: reasons why these videos are not the answer to addressing concerns of alleged animal abuse in animal agriculture.
Before I dive into some common trends, let me first say that when actual animal mishandling or abuse occurs, the animal agriculture industry does not condone it or try to hide it. Farmers, ranchers and industry leaders are dedicated to providing the best animal care possible, but activist groups are not concerned about animal welfare and are hindering the ability of the animal agriculture industry to strive for continuous improvement.
As I was going through footage and reading what the activist groups claimed to have happened, I couldn’t help but notice common trends start to emerge within each video – all of which supported why activist groups aren’t concerned with stopping alleged abuse.
Here are just a few (I could write a book on this, but I’ll spare you the time):
1. Out of context
The average length of an undercover video is about 3-4 minutes by design. Activist groups rely on the viewers’ lack of familiarity about animal agriculture to convince and mislead them into thinking that what they are viewing is without a doubt animal abuse when they could very well be watching a procedure that is for the long-term welfare benefit of the animal, approved and supported by science and for the safety of employees that work with the animal.
One example of something being taken out of context would be dehorning. This procedure may not be easy to watch for someone unfamiliar with raising cattle, but imagine how much pain another cow or an employee would be in if they had their side cut into by a sharp set of horns. People have even died from these types of injuries. Naturally polled cattle (cattle that are born without horns) are growing in popularity, but a transition to an entirely polled population wouldn’t be possible overnight. As long as there are cattle being born with horns, dehorning will be a necessary practice for everyone’s safety.
So remember… don’t believe everything you see and know that these videos only show what the animal rights groups want you to see.
2. Staged scenes
Undercover activists are paid up to $800 per week to capture footage of what they deem as inhumane. So what if they don’t find anything worth capturing? What if nothing they see is worth splicing together for an undercover video? We’ve heard that activists only get paid if they capture footage the animal rights groups can use, and this could very well explain why some activists are known to stage scenes and either encourage other employees or partake in abuse themselves.
One video taken at a poultry processing facility showed chickens in a room of the facility where they should have never been and was later determined that that the activist had access to the facility at night and staged the chickens and put them in danger just to shoot a video.
In another video at a dairy farm, the activist made sure cows were led through deep manure when the cows had no reason to be walking in that area. It was later found that this scene was staged and that if the cows were living in the conditions that the activist group had claimed, then they would be covered from head to tail in manure, not just their legs.
So if I am aware that undercover activists are staging scenes and even encouraging employees to break animal welfare protocols, then the animal rights groups must be aware since they supposedly expect an update from the activist each day. This begs the question that if they are aware then are they actually encouraging it too? Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are aware, but aren’t encouraging the activist to go to any measures possible to obtain footage of alleged abuse, then what are they doing to stop activists from encouraging or even being a part of what they claim they are trying to put an end to? From what I can see, nothing, because it continues to happen and a handful of activists have been charged as a result of their actions.
3. Refuse to cooperate with farm owners and law enforcement
Farm owners and law enforcement have requested to view the full, unedited video footage that the undercover activist obtained while working on the farm for the purpose of getting the entire story and finding out what exactly (if anything) went wrong and how to fix the situation so it doesn’t happen in the future. If activist groups were concerned about helping animals they would be willing to help management and law enforcement to take corrective action.
In all cases, the undercover activists leave employment before the video footage is released and therefore not available to answer questions regarding their concerns and what they allegedly witnessed because they are already undercover on another farm working on producing another video. If they are concerned about animal welfare, wouldn’t you think they would stick around and help in any way they possibly can?
4. Playing the innocent bystander
On many farming operations employers require their staff to sign an agreement stating that they will report any concerns about animal welfare immediately. Do the undercover activists sign this agreement? Yes. Do they adhere to the agreement and report concerns of abuse immediately? No, they just stand there and videotape. If I was witnessing something that I truly felt needed to be stopped, I wouldn’t be able to just stand there and watch from an arms-length distance. Would you?
Animal rights supporters often fire back with the argument that “we need to get as much evidence as possible” when asked why they wait to report concerns of abuse. Not only are undercover activists breaking protocols if they did sign an agreement, but all this so-called “evidence” that they are getting is not doing anyone any good. It is only prolonging this alleged abuse that they deem as their top priority. If you actually are witnessing true animal abuse it doesn’t matter if you have one instance or three weeks worth of footage.
5. Taking forever to release the video
I think I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – this day in age it does not take more than a day to put video footage online. One activist group claims undercover “investigations” are the “livelihood” of their organization, so they should be pros by now and be able to edit together their catchy three-minute videos in a few hours, right? But they wait for days, weeks, months and sometimes even up to a full year to release video footage! A year!
Honestly, this is the most glaring flaw of the animal rights groups in my opinion because it screams hypocrisy. The fact that they wait so long to release and report concerns of abuse just proves that they are more concerned about fundraising and perfectly timing video releases within the media cycle and their own PR campaigns than stopping the alleged abuse.
What it means for farm owners
For farm owners, the concern has shifted from if they will run into an undercover activist to when will they encounter an undercover activist which creates distrust between employees and supervisors. Now owners have to worry about hiring people that are there for the wrong reasons instead of focusing their attention on how to improve their operation and take care of their livestock. Concerns of abuse need to be reported immediately so management can know about the situation and resolve it as soon as possible. Supervisors can’t be everywhere at all times and they can’t fix what they don’t know about, so they rely on their employees do their job and to report their concerns immediately, not five months down the road after their footage is made into a video or commercial.
What can you do?
Ask yourself: if you were concerned about the welfare of animals, would you help and report your concerns immediately or just stand there and do nothing for the sake of a campaign?
If you answered the former, then don’t let the activist groups mislead you into thinking they are here to improve animal welfare. I encourage you to speak up and share why you don’t support undercover video campaigns by posting your thoughts with the hashtag #ReportNotRecord, started by Dairy Farmers of America in response to an undercover video targeting one of its member farms.