Cell phone videocams open factory farms to public view

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2010:
BOULDER, URBANA–Ignoring 20 years of
warnings by leading U.S. agribusiness educators
and pundits has begun to cost the livestock
industry serious money and– perhaps–consumer
confidence.
Increasingly frequent and effective
undercover exposés are acquainting ever more of
the public with meat, egg, and dairy production
practices, including with the ineffecacy of
agribusiness at improving animal welfare despite
frequent promises.
More than a hundred activists have now
worked undercover at many hundreds of factory
farms and slaughterhouses, documenting
procedures with thousands of hours of video.


None have failed to find conditions and practices
that appall mainstream consumers of meat, eggs,
and dairy products when the video clips are
broadcast and posted to web sites.
Four cases amplified by mass media during
the last week of May and first week of June 2010
brought to life the worst nightmares long
predicted for agribusiness by Colorado State
University professor of psychology and livestock
handling consultant Temple Grandin,
CattleNetwork blogger Chuck Jolley, and the late
University of Illinois agriculture professor
emeritus Stan Curtis–among others.
Maine Contract Farming agreed to pay
$34,674 in fines and restitution for alleged
cruelty to laying hens at an egg farm in Turner,
Maine.
“The company will also donate $100,000 to
the Maine Department of Agriculture to help
monitor egg farms,” reported Lewiston
Sun-Journal staff writer Scott Taylor. The
violations, occurring in 2008-2009, were
brought to light by Mercy for Animals.
The sum of the fines and restitution
amount to small change for a major agrcultural
producer, but the donation to reinforce
agricultural law enforcement amounts to an
admission that the entire egg industry needs more
policing.
While the Maine Contract Farming case was
in settlement negotiation, a four-week
investigation by Mercy for Animals during April
and May 2010 documented staff at Conklin Dairy
Farms in Plain City, Ohio “punching young calves
in the face, body-slamming them to the ground,
pulling and throwing them by their ears,
routinely using pitchforks to stab cows in the
face, legs, and stomach, kicking cows too
injured to stand in the face and neck, beating
restrained cows in the face with crowbars,
twisting cows’ tails until the bones snapped,
and punching cows’ udders,” a Mercy for Animals
media release summarized.
Conklin Dairy Farms worker Billy Gregg,
Jr., 25, was charged with 12 counts of
misdemeanor cruelty. A felony charge of
improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle
was added after Gregg was reportedly found to
have a loaded gun in his car when he arrived at
the company offices to be fired.
Conklin Dairy Farms received a notice of
violation from Ohio Department of Agriculture
inspector Jill M. Duel several days later for
improperly disposing of dead animals. An unknown
number of cattle carcasses, found in a
water-filled pit, were later buried at least
four feet underground, as Ohio law requires.
Vermont bust
Also during the first week of June 2010
two former employees of Bushway Packing in Grand
Isle, Vermont, were charged with cruelty to
calves on their way to slaughter. The charges
resulted from a September 2009 exposé by the
Humane Society of the U.S. Video collected by an
HSUS undercover investigator during six weeks of
employment at Bushway Packing allegedly caught
Christopher Gaudette, 37, shocking a downed calf
16 times, kicking the calf, pouring water over
the calf’s head to increase the strength of the
shocks, and then shocking the calf seven more
times.
Frank Perretta, 51, “secretary of the
company and one of its corporate directors,”
according to Associated Press writer John Curran,
“was shown the video by USDA inspectors and said
he would never condone the behavior Gaudette had
engaged in. But he, too, was cited for
excessive shocking of a calf, and for kneeing
another animal in the backside,” Curran wrote.
Vermont prosecutor Cindy Maguire told Curran that
the case was the first time cruelty charges had
ever been filed against a Vermont slaughterhouse.
“The abuse was called ‘inexcusable’ by
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last
year,” Curran added. “It led to the closing of
Bushway Packing and calls for closer regulation
of animal handling. Ultimately, the state
legislature passed a bill creating a Livestock
Care Standards Advisory Council. The bill allows
the state to deny a commercial slaughter license
to people who are convicted of animal cruelty.”
Compassion over Killing meanwhile
released video that led to Santa Cruz Animal
Services seizing 88 birds from the California
chicken and duck producer Cal-Cruz Hatcheries in
May 2009. Only 38 of the birds survived. The
survivors were taken to the Farm Sanctuary
location in Orlands, California. [See page one
photo.]

“9/11 for industry”

University of Illinois agriculture
professor emeritus Stan Curtis, 68, died on
April 25, 2010, two years and four days afer
warning Feedstuffs readers that “Animal
agriculture will have to become more
transparent,” and “People distrust secretiveness,
but they value openness.”
If agribusiness failed to maintain animal
welfare standards capable of withstanding public
scrutiny, Curtis cautioned, and failed to show
the public good examples, animal advocates would
continue to produce a seemingly endless series of
exposés of conditions and practices that no one
could defend.
Curtis lived long enough to see it,
including exposés of alleged animal welfare
violations at four Iowa egg farms released by
HSUS just three weeks before his death.
More than half of all the undercover
video exposés of factory farms and
slaughterhouses that have ever been broadcast or
posted to web sites have been aired since a 2008
PETA exposé of a MowMar Farms pig breeding
facility near Bayard, Iowa that MowMar co-owner
Lynn Becker called “the 9/11 event in the swine
industry.”
“This is a wakeup call for the industry,”
agreed American Association of Swine
Veterinarians executive director Tom Burkgren.
The video showed staff beating pigs with metal
rods and urging others to do likewise, live
piglets in a dead pile, and castration and
tail-docking being done without anesthesia.
MowMar Farms, of Fairmont, Minnesota, only
bought the 6,000-sow site in Iowa 28 days before
the PETA video was released. The video images
were collected by PETA undercover operatives for
three months before MowMar acquired the facility
and changed the management. MowMar subsequently
fired six employees who eventually pleaded guilty
to cruelty to animals. PETA asked that 12 more
employees be fired–and the Iowa Farm Bureau
endorsed the PETA call for prosecutions.
“PETA did animal agriculture a favor,”
opined Faces of Farming founder Trent Loos. “I
have to wonder, though, why it took the
assistance of an organization with a vegan agenda
to stop this ongoing display of disrespect toward
animals?”
“This isn’t about one farm–it’s about a
culture of cruelty that exists everyplace we go
undercover on a factory farm or slaughterhouse,”
PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich told media.
“Anyone eating factory-farmed meat is paying to
support it.” PETA asked MowMar to install
cameras in all animal housing, to monitor
employee conduct.
Cell telephones that can transmit live
video to web sites mean agribusiness can no
longer keep how animals are treated out of public
view. The only question is who uses video
images, for what purpose.
Even if factory farm or slaughterhouse
security guards quickly capture an activist
clandestinely taking and transmitting video,
persuasive evidence of animal abuse and neglect
might already be reaching an international
audience–and use of offshore web hosts can mean
the evidence is beyond the reach of corporate
lawyers before the videographer is removed from
the premises. No matter how the videographer is
punished, images transmitted into the public
domain might circulate for decades.

Cameras in the barns

Colorado State University professor of
psychology and animal science Temple Grandin
began warning agribusiness about the potential of
undercover video to transform public perception
of livestock rearing and slaughter in May 1991.
Grandin has repeatedly advised lecture audiences
of factory farm and slaughterhouse executives
that they can either learn to use closed-circuit
video cameras to monitor animal welfare and show
the world positive images of routine animal
treatment, or be exposed just as has already
occurred at more than 200 animal industry facilities.
Grandin began recommending that farms and
slaughterhouses use video surveillance soon after
Minneapolis cocktail waitress Becky Sandstedt
released to news media selected clips from 40
hours of video she covertly made of the handling
of downed cattle and pigs at United Stockyards
Inc. in South St. Paul. United Stockyards agreed
after five weeks of protest and public pressure
to stop accepting deliveries of cattle and pigs
who could not walk to slaughter.
Sandstedt soon afterward took a full-time
job with Farm Sanctuary, but the video
technology of the time was not easily used to
produce further exposés of an industry that had
been put on guard. The equipment was expensive,
hard to use covertly, and required activists to
enter agribusiness facilities with items easily
recognized as out of the ordinary.
Seven years passed before SHARK
undercover investigators Steve Wong and Dug
Hanbicki documented the inside procedures at the
Concord Meat Processing Company and Long Chen
Hmong Livestock Inc., both of South St.
Paul–but the images they captured, especially
of pig slaughter, were so disturbing that no
mainstream media would air them. The World Wide
Web had debuted five years earlier, but most
users lacked the connection speed needed to view
videos online.
Video clips of abusive practices obtained
by Gail Eisnitz of the Humane Farming Association
from inside workers at an Iowa Beef Packers plant
in Wallula, Washington finally gave the public a
view of slaughter in May 2000. The Wallula clips
were broadcast by leading Seattle and San
Francisco television news stations.
A week later a North Carolina TV station
accidentally aired a PETA undercover video that
brought the convictions of several Belcross Farms
personnel for cruelty to a pig.
PETA followed up with other undercover
investigations documented by videotape. The
poultry processing firm Pilgrim’s Pride in July
2004 fired three managers and eight hourly
workers at a slaughterhouse in Moorfield, West
Virginia, where a PETA undercover videographer
documented workers killing chickens by stomping
them and beating them against walls. In December
2004 AgriProcessors Inc. of Postville, Iowa,
the only U.S. slaughterhouse authorized to export
meat to Israel, agreed to amend their
slaughtering procedures after a seven-week PETA
undercover operation produced 30 minutes of
damning video that called into question whether
AgricProcessors’ meat could really be considered
kosher.

YouTube changes picture

But all of the elements needed for animal
advocates to fully and repeatedly expose factory
farming and slaughter were not yet in place until
the February 2005 debut of YouTube. Suddenly
anyone could post brief video clips and compete
for public notice. The introduction of cell
telephones capable of capturing video meanwhile
gave anyone the ability to document anything.
The mostly young and highly transient farm and
slaughterhouse labor force–including many
illegal aliens of no fixed address–had already
made cell telephones ubiquitous and inconspicuous
at agribusiness workplaces. A worker receiving
or making a brief cell phone call had become so
routine as to barely be noticed by supervisors,
if at all.
Undercover video exposés of animal
agriculture entered the YouTube era after
Compassion Over Killing investigator John
Brothers documented conditions at Esbenshade
Farms in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania during the
first week of December 2005. The Compassion Over
Killing video “showed hens impaled on loose
wires, hens unable to eat or drink because they
were entangled in the wire cages, and hens left
to die in aisles without food and water,”
summarized Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer
Harold Brubaker.
Esbenshade Farms, with about 600,000
hens on that farm, and about 2.3 million birds
at any one time altogether, is among the
leading U.S. egg producers. Company chief
executive H. Glenn Esbenshade was acquitted of
cruelty charges in June 2007, after successfully
contending that the video showed only standard
agricultural practices. The anti-cruelty laws of
Pennsylvania and 30 other states exempt standard
agricultural practices from prosecution as
cruelty.
But while Esbenshade won in the court of
law, he did not appear to win in the court of
public opinion. More than 10,000 people saw the
Compassion Over Killing video on YouTube.
Thousands more saw it on other web sites.
Public rejects “normal”
Farm animal advocates have always
believed that the public would reject the routine
mistreatment of livestock, if they saw it. The
Esbenshade case proved the point: the more
Esbenshade contended that what the Compassion
Over Killing video showed was normal, the less
the animal suffering it showed seemed to be
accepted.
The Humane Society of the U.S. did the
first of several hidden video exposés of Michael
Foods Egg Products Co. facilities in June 2006,
finding similar “normal” conditions. Hired to
remove dead hens from battery cages, said HSUS
video marketing outreach coordinator Erin
Williams, the undercover operative videotaped
live hens confined in cages with decomposing
birds, hens caught in the cage wire, sick and
injured hens, and immobilized hens who were
allegedly dying from starvation and dehydration,
inches from food and water. A Compassion Over
Killing undercover video investigation found
similar conditions at a Michael Foods egg barn at
an unspecified location in August 2009. Then
HSUS a month later distributed video from a
Michael Foods egg barn in LeSeuer, Minnesota.
Michael Foods told Tom Webb of the St. Paul
Pioneer Press that “Some or all of the scenes
showing dead birds being removed from cages were
staged.”
Nonetheless, the 2006 video helped to
persuade one of Michael Foods’ biggest customers,
the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, to begin
transitioning to the use of free range eggs.
Campaigns against the IHOP restaurant chain and
Dunkin Donuts for using Michael Foods eggs from
battery caged hens continue, waged by HSUS and
Compassion Over Killing primarily with online
video clips.
PETA meanwhile placed two undercover
investigators inside an Ozark Butterball turkey
hatchery in Arkansas for 40 days between April
and June 2006. Compassion Over Killing placed
one investigator in a Goldsboro Milling turkey
hatchery in North Carolina, also a Butterball
brand supplier, for three weeks in June and July
2006. Video from both operations aired as
Thanksgiving 2006 approached.
The Compassion Over Killing video showed
culled hatchlings being stuffed into plastic bags
and pulverized in macerating machines. Sleepy
Creek Farms general manager Nick Weaver, who
also oversaw the Goldsboro Milling turkey
hatcheries, objected to Leigh Dyer of the
Charlotte Observer that this is accepted under
industry guidelines.
“To portray it as this horrible,
sinister situation is just not fair, just not
accurate,” Weaver protested.
Again the defense that the exposed
procedures are normal and accepted appeared to
amplify the impact of the undercover videos on
the public.

Videos bring action

No such defense was possible after a
Mercy for Animals undercover investigator in May
2007 produced video of House of Raeford Farms
turkey production workers “using live turkeys as
punching bags, ripping their heads off, and
slaughtering conscious birds,” as a Mercy for
Animals media release summarized. Mercy for
Animals unsuccessfully sought felony charges
against the alleged abusers. House of Raeford
management insisted that the investigator
instigated the abuses, but the Denny’s
restaurant chain changed turkey suppliers.
2007 closed with a pre-Christmas
announcement by Mepkin Abbey, of Monck’s Corner,
South Carolina, that it would begin an 18-month
transition out of the egg business. Selling eggs
and chicken manure had provided 60% of the income
for the Trappist monastery. PETA in January 2007
had collected undercover video in which a monk
compared starving hens to induce a “forced molt”
and new laying cycle to fasting for religious
reasons.
Mepkin Abbey retreated from egg
production nine days after PETA disclosed
undercover video made from September to November
at the Murphy Family Ventures pig farm in
Garland, North Carolina–a supplier to
Smithfield Foods. Video of workers dragging pigs
by their snouts, an ear or a leg to be killed,
hitting and jabbing pigs with metal rods, and
injured pigs going untreated brought the
prosecution of one employee and indictment of
another, who fled the state.
Three employees of Aviagen Turkeys Inc.
in Lewisburg, West Virginia, were charged with
felony animal abuse as result of actions
documented by PETA undercover video in 2008. Two
pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in June 2009 in
Greenbriar County, but were then indicted for
separate felonies in October 2009 in Monroe
County.
HSUS, however, produced the most
publicized undercover video exposé to date in
January 2008 at the Hallmark/Westland Meat
Company in Chino, California. More than 120
newspaper and magazine articles and 14,600 web
sites amplified the findings of the lone HSUS
investigator, who documented extensive abuse of
downed cattle at one of the 18 slaughterhouses
that supplied meat to the USDA school lunch
program. The USDA withdrew inspection of
Hallmark/ Westland, forcing it to close for nine
months, before reopening under a different name
and new management. Two workers were criminally
prosecuted. One was sentenced to serve 270 days
in jail; the other was deported to Mexico. The
influence of the video helped HSUS to win passage
of a California ballot proposition in November
2008 that banned veal crating and gestation
crates for sows, and requires that battery
caging for hens be phased out.
In May 2008 a similar HSUS video made at
the Westminster Livestock Auction Market in
Carroll County, Maryland, led to the
prosecution of owner James E. Horak for violating
state animal health rules, and caused the
Maryland Department of Agriculture to reinforce
inspection procedures.

Mercy for Animals

Mercy for Animals, however, has
conducted more successful undercover video
investigations of farms and slaughterhouses
during the past two years than HSUS and PETA
combined. Still only 26, Nathan Runkle started
Mercy for Animals at age 15, having grown up
with the technology he uses. Since Runkle and
the other Mercy for Animals staff are mostly
still in the same age bracket as many of the
young and relatively inexperienced workers hired
by agribusiness, they appear to have little
trouble fitting in, cell phones included.
Some of the most dramatic images of
battery-caged hens used during the California
initiative campaign were collected by a Mercy for
Animals investigator during a two-month stint at
egg ranches in the San Joaquin Valley. The job
was done while the petition campaign to put the
initiative on the ballot was still underway.
From December 2008 until February 2009 a
Mercy for Animals undercover agent documented
dehorning operations, workers punching and
kicking cows to get them to move, and dragging
newborn calves from their mothers by one leg at
Willet Dairy in Locke, New York. Months of
futile effort to persuade the Cayuga County
District Attorney’s Office to bring charges
against the alleged offenders followed.
In January 2010 Mercy for Animals finally
posted the evidence to YouTube. More than 50,000
people viewed the Willet Dairy video within the
next few weeks. Among them was New York State
Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, of Manhattan,
who proposed a ban on tail-docking similar to one
enacted in 2009 in California. Willet Dairy in
Feruary 2010 announced that one worker had been
suspended and that the company would undergo an
audit of animal care.
In May and June 2009 Mercy for Animals
videotaped how unwanted male chicks were culled
and killed at a hatchery in Spencer, Iowa.
Hy-Line North America admitted to “animal welfare
policy violations” at the hatchery three months
later, after undergoing an independent audit.
In November 2009 Mercy for Animals
distributed a 12-minute video of scenes an
investigator witnessed during three months of
employment at Country View Family Farms in
central Pennsylvania, including piglets being
picked up by their ears and tossed, and sick
piglets being killed in an allegedly
malfunctioning gas chamber.

“Cow-cams”

All of this exasperates Temple Grandin.
“On farms in Europe,” she told readers of Meat &
Poultry in 2008, “you can look at a ‘cow cam’ on
a dairy farm and watch calves being born and cows
being milked on the Internet. Many people on
both the farm side and the meat plant side [of
agribusiness] are overly cautious about showing
what we do. A common comment is ‘people will not
understand.’ What many industry managers do not
realize is that the public is forming attitudes
from negative propaganda on the Internet. We
need to post the good stuff. In every phase of
agriculture and the meat industry,” Grandin
wrote, “we need to say to ourselves, ‘Would I
be proud to show what I am doing to my
out-of-town holiday or wedding guests?’ If you
are squirming and cringing, you need to improve
your practicesŠHacking horns off of large cattle,
beating up animals, or shoving them around with
a forklift does not pass this test.
“There are some people in the industry
who have the ‘stockade’ mentality,” Grandin
continued. “Their response is to batten down the
hatches and install security gates. That is
useless. An undercover employee with a hidden
camera will have a key-card to open the gate.”
Once again Grandin urged farms and
slaughterhouses to use cameras themselves to
monitor animal care and handling. “A few
progressive places, such as FPL Foods in
Georgia, have installed video auditing,”
Grandin noted. “Some other companies are in the
process of installing it. I would like to see
the day when a meat plant has live video on the
Internet,” Grandin challenged.

Persuasion

Mercy for Animals persuaded Radlo Foods,
of Maine, to adopt video auditing. Radlo as of
April 2009 was a supplier to the Eggland’s Best
label, and was a major customer of Quality Egg.
Based in Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania, Quality
Egg had acquired the former DeCoster Egg Farm in
Turner, Maine. Under founder Jack DeCoster,
the farm became notorious for violations of labor
laws and environmental standards even before
Mercy for Animals founder Nathan Runkle was born.
Animal welfare shortcomings were also often
mentioned, but at the time there were no
applicable laws to be enforced.
Between December 2008 and February 2009 a
Mercy for Animals investigator documented the
usual mistreatment of hens on egg farms–and
several instances of sadistic behavior by
employees. Eggland then accused Radlo of
violating contractual terms by obtaining eggs
from a farm that failed to meet the Eggland
animal welfare standards. Radlo announced that
it would no longer buy eggs from the former
DeCoster complex, and would work to become 100%
cage-free.
In October 2009 several Radlo staff
joined Maine state animal welfare agents in
completing a training program provided by the
American Humane Association.
“Radlo is committed to converting all egg
production operations to new sustainable laying
systems that are good for laying hens,
consistent with American Humane Certified
standards,” American Humane announced. “This
will be achieved in part by installing video
monitoring equipment for observation and
oversight of humane best practices in the
facilities.”
American Humane Certified, the American
Humane farm animal welfare program, heavily
invested for several years in a video monitoring
system developed by HS3 Technologies. The first
producer to use it was GCB Foods LLC, of
Nashville, North Carolina. On September 29,
2008, American Humane announced that GCB Foods
had installed video cameras that “allow American
Humane to monitor animal welfare at the facility
remotely through real-time video.”
The partnership between American Humane
and HS3 Technologies appears to have ended.
According to a document filed by HS3 Technologies
with the Federal Trade Commission, “Effective
February 28, 2010 the American Humane Association
terminated a master licensing and monitoring
agreement dated February 1, 2009. Under the
agreement our company agreed to provide and
install digital video surveillance systems and
equipment at such locations as are designated by
AHA. AHA has claimed that the company’s showing
of a marketing video of animals at a trade show
without AHA written permission was an incurable
breach of the contract. Our company believes the
termination by AHA is a breach of the contract,”
HS3 Technologies stated, “and we are evaluating
our response.”
Video systems have so far been marketed
to agribusiness primarily as tools for monitoring
whether workers perform assigned duties, and for
preventing theft and substance abuse. Video
security cameras are now common at factory farms
and slaughterhouses, but tend to be focused more
on entrances and corridors than on the animals.
The use of video systems such as Grandin
and American Humane recommend to keep animals
under observation will require more cameras, yet
video technology has decreased so much in price
that putting a videocam over every cage, stall,
or pig pen may not look like a big investment
relative to the cost of losing animals due to
mishandling, fighting among stressed animals,
and illnesses that presently elude notice until
many animals have collapsed. In other words,
continuous video monitoring of animal welfare may
be good for profits, as well as better for the
animals.
Employee surveillance as now practiced by
many companies in agribusiness may catch
thousands of employees sneaking calls on their
cell phones. But it is unlikely to stop some of
those calls from transmitting the evidence that
factory farming and slaughter are ugly
businesses. Stopping calls that prove
embarrassing to agribusiness will require
eliminating welfare problems that cell phone
video can document.

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