Don’t get me wrong, nothing upsets me more than when I see an “undercover video” recorded by farm employees claiming animal abuse when the undercover employee set up the situation. I also understand the frustration of farmers when they see these videos splashed across the media. Yet, as several states debate “ag gag” bills, I have to wonder if these are the right approach for dealing with the problem.
Idaho is the latest state to pass a law making it illegal to secretly record footage at a farm operation. Idaho's new law is in response to a 2012 undercover video at an Idaho dairy farm.
The law prohibits making audio or video recordings of such operations without first getting permission, and it criminalizes efforts to obtain records from agricultural operations by force or misrepresentation. Lying on an employment application for such a farm is also outlawed.
On the surface, farmers might cheer the fact that Idaho passed such a law, but it makes farmers look like they have something to hide. And, it’s not like the groups who endorse this kind of work are going to toss their hands in the air and quit their undercover operations.
Instead, I think there are better, wiser solutions.
First, farmers need to implement hiring procedures that minimize the risk of opening the door to these “undercover” employees. It might take more work at the outset to verify that you are hiring the right kind of employee, but it will pay dividends in the end. The second is have a zero tolerance policy for wrongdoing on the farm and to establish a culture for animal care. And farmers should have an action plan to respond to an undercover video. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
As a community, we farmers need to figure out a way to better show what is happening on the farm. When there is an accusation of “wrongdoing” that is false, we need to discredit the falsehood. And when there is a legitimate complaint of animal abuse, we need to stand up and call it wrong. Farmers should also figure out how to take the lead in the discussion, instead of reacting.
What do you think?
-- Charlene Shupp Espenshade, special sections editor