Animal Care under scrutiny. Is video surveillance the answer ?

When I don’t sleep I find it cathartic to blog about the things going round in my head. So today you get two very different posts

I want to throw something out there for consideration and it concerns that highly emotive topic – animal  welfare and husbandry practices.

This week a horrifying story has come out of Canada which if you haven’t been in the loop you can read all about here. I cant watch the footage and it just horrifies me that EIGHT people were involved. Obviously this is a very big farm and yes farmers do need our support because as the statistics keep reminding us animal abuse on farms is very much in the minority compared to the the abuse of domestic pets and in particular animal hoarders.

Regarding the Canadian incident (is that a strong enough word ) I was extremely impressed by the BC Dairy Association response which started with the following first step:

First and foremost, we pushed for the immediate installation of video cameras at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, allowing for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm.

Interestingly enough the world’s leading expert on humane treatment of cattle, pigs and sheep Temple Grandin also recommends remote video monitoring in large facilities to maintain high standards of animal welfare.

So I put it out there is there should Australian farmers routinely install of video cameras to allow for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm?.

After all is there anywhere (except the family home) today humans who live and work in cities can go without being under video surveillance to monitor our honesty, work ethic and safety.

So in this changing social and economic climate is it inconceivable that livestock industries follow suit if we want to ensure high standards of animal care as well as limit the impacts on our businesses and ensure long term sustainability.

I agree with this comment

In an era of increased scrutiny and demands for greater transparency, it is not a matter of “if” a painful or stressful  husbandry practice will come under scrutiny but a matter of ‘when’. Siting back and waiting for the next  media ‘expose’ is not a wise approach to the issue.

As farmers I am sure you will all agree that we must be more proactive and engage with the Australian community and assure them the faith they have in the food and fibre we produce is warranted.

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We must agree that it is very stressful let alone hurtful when this happens as it appears to have in Canada if the online vitriol is anything to go by

Now it’s branded every dairy farmer in the country as a vicious sadist whose gleeful pursuit of profit comes at the cost of the animals in his or her care.

As I have said I have put it out there. Do we have anything to fear and perhaps everything  to gain by taking the lead and installing our own on farm video equipment?.

I welcome your comments.

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

7 thoughts on “Animal Care under scrutiny. Is video surveillance the answer ?”

  1. Child Protection Australia 2011-12, found the number of children who were the subject of substantiated abuse rose from 31,500 to 37,800….YET you think video camera’s in farm is a higher priority? NOT ME. Farmers do not typically abuse animals because the stress does no one any good. Furthermore Temple Grandin is NOT the expert you pose her to be.

    1. Why isn’t Temple an expert? And Trent, why are you talking about children? I thought we were talking animals?
      Looking forward to seeing you at Lambex next week.

  2. Absolutely we do, Lynne. Three reasons spring to mind:

    1. A family farm is also a home and I will not have our little family watched by millions via spy cameras. Imagine CCTV on your backyard streaming live to the internet. Totally unacceptable.

    2. The viewers would deserve an explanation for some of the practices they’d see. Veterinary treatment for an eye cancer, for example, could very well look like animal abuse on video.

    3. To be effective, they’d need to be in the dairy, the calf sheds, the yards, the ute, the quad bikes, the tractor and the paddocks. That’s around 50 cameras on my farm alone.

  3. What a horrific example, but as you say, clearly not representative of the vast majority of farms. Even as a person well on the record in opposition to intensive animal farming, I do not believe for a moment that animals are being wilfully abused such as in this example in the majority of intensive operations (and I speak here mostly of pork and poultry, as most Australian dairies are not run as the kind of intensives they have in the US, where the cattle are never outside of sheds).

    As for whether CCTV is the best means of exposing and deterring animal abuse, I have to admit I’m very uncomfortable with that solution, though not for the reasons others have shared. As for a farm like Marian’s (or mine, yours, etc), of course you wouldn’t put cameras in your backyard so that’s a bit of a furphy. As for needing explanations of some of what people would say, I agree that’s true though eventually less so once eaters gain knowledge of basic animal husbandry and veterinarian practices – transparency is about education as much as discipline.

    My concern about CCTV, however, is that it targets individuals who are the least powerful in a system that is actually the problem. Abattoir or intensive piggery/chicken farm workers in Australia are earning somewhere around $20/hour to do a job s/he may not be particularly invested in doing (& far less in North America). How do we expect them to react when animals don’t comply? What reason do they have to constantly take the gentler path, let alone what skills?

    Surely the real issue here is that intensive animal agriculture is stressful and unpleasant for animals and the people who look after them? And those who own such operations should take more responsibility for creating a nurturing environment for animals and people, which will eventually lead us back to more extensive farming practices (outdoor/free range)?

    But of course many owners of such operations are family farmers – not big corporations – because they’ve had to go down the ‘get big or get out’ path to remain viable in a deeply unfair industrial food system. And so there are other big questions about how to change the entire system – including helping the public learn why and how to value food and pay the real costs of production without massively externalising the environmental, social and moral costs.

    Could CCTV help in the short term in large, intensive operations? Probably. But I’m afraid we’ll just be punishing the serf to teach the king a lesson.

  4. I must say, Tammi, that calling my concern about the invasion of our family’s privacy a “furphy” is a little patronising. Perhaps your unorthodox pig farm and those of most dairy farming families differ more than you think. Our farm is our children’s backyard.

    As I did when I was young, Alex and Zoe are out on the farm alongside me hours every day. Cameras in the dairy, the calf shed and the paddock would feature my children almost constantly. I’d rather sell the farm than allow that.

  5. Hi everyone I need to clarify under no circumstances am I suggesting live streaming All I am putting out there is the option to similar systems shopkeepers and shopping malls and train stations use
    Everyone living and working in cities is monitored by video survellience at some point in their day

  6. Lynne,
    Very few people – city or country dwellers – have the daily lives of their family monitored.

    And how long before large retailers like Coles will want access as a marketing edge? Well, they’ve already mooted it.

    I count myself as an animal activist as well as a farmer but, in this case, the ends do not justify the means.

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