Many businesses with intellectual property don’t allow cameras; think John Deere, Ford, Google. Homes are protected from such invasions on privacy; imagine how you’d feel to discover a hidden camera in your bedroom. But what about farms? If you’re a part of animal agriculture, you need to consider how you’d look on candid camera. Ongoing videos from animal rights activists and legislation proposed to make such such actions illegal in Iowa, Minnesota and Florida have brought the issue to the forefront. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe every operation should install cameras.
The nasty videos aren’t going to stop. There are bad apples who don’t deserve to be called farmers. There are also terrible humans, who have gone through rigorous screening by a farm and signed paperwork against abuse, but still end up in the barns doing terrible things to animals. And, yes, there are groups who stage such abuse to further their cause. We have to accept that these videos will keep coming. The question is what we do to protect both the families and animals involved.
Do farms have something to hide? The proposed legislation is certainly being viewed that way. I struggle with this; it should be as wrong for trespassers to be video taping on a farm as it is for someone to walk in a school and film children. Both should require permission – and have legal ramifications if none is given. Likewise, any abuse that’s filmed should be turned over to the authorities – immediately. Not waiting 3 days or 3 weeks to execute a strategic campaign to raise funds or publicity for your organization – but immediately.
Farmers aren’t hiding animal abuse, but animal agriculture isn’t pretty. As I write this, we’ve had record-high rainfalls in the central Midwest – which means cattle are standing knee deep in mud in some locations. These same cattle graze in lush green pastures and lounge in the sunshine in summer (to the envy of this human). But it’s simply not pretty right now – no matter how much cleaning and care is given – or if it’s a “factory farm” or small operation.
Another not so pretty reality; animal agriculture practices can look terrible, even when done in the best interest of the animal. We had a cow go down on pasture last summer on a 90 degree day. Keeping this animal alive required me smacking her across the face and kneeing her chest as hard as my human weight could muster. Before you judge me; consider the shock it takes to keep a human heart going – and then multiply that by 10. Once we had the heavy equipment ready (a necessity with downed animals) we got her off the ground by putting a metal device around her hip bones and then raised the hip lifts with a tractor so she could stand. When she was steady enough to walk, we helped her back to the barn, with urine pouring out of her and manure all over (cows don’t use bed pans).
Is this an image we want on camera? I think not. It would have looked terrible on CNN and would been incorrectly labeled as animal abuse. Yet, the cow lived and did not suffer needlessly – because two women cared enough to do some “ugly” things in the interest of animal husbandry. The same scenario is played out a hundred different ways on farms (large and small) across the country every day. Animals get hurt, need to be euthanized and do stupid things like getting their heads jammed into places they don’t belong. If you work with animals, you know this. But I’d wager 99% of the population does not know these things about farm animals firsthand. And more to the point, they won’t have any knowledge unless you help them.
Does this mean I think all farms and ranches should install cameras, upload their footage to YouTube, then tweet it and cross-populate to Facebook? Absolutely not. I’m not a fan of putting video cameras in barns because animal agriculture isn’t pretty. And until the public is more familiar with this reality, I’m not sure they’re ready to see the scenario that I describe above – which was not on a “factory farm.” I also believe it should be a farmer’s choice on his/her own property.
I applaud those that have installed cameras, including J.S. West with chickens and Belstra with pigs – and know many more are considering it. What is recorded should remain as a farm’s choice. But the lack of desire to have “candid cameras” on farms doesn’t mean that farmers and ranchers aren’t being transparent. It simply means that farms are a place of a business, a family’s livelihood and yes – a place of privacy.
What do you think? How does agriculture bridge the gap?