Animal abuse is livestock industry’s Achilles heel

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Somewhere in America today an animal-rights activist lurks on a farm with a hidden camera. It’s hardly a secret. Indeed, the activist groups have repeatedly told us hidden cameras are their most successful tactic and they’ll continue to use them.

Yet, even with the knowledge of our foes’ battle plan, our industry continues to fall into their ambush.

By now you’ve all seen the memo: Animal abuse cannot be tolerated. It’s a public relations disaster, a detriment to animal performance and business profitability, and creates a poor environment for all employees. But most important, animal abuse is simply wrong.

Last month’s news of the release of an undercover video by the group Mercy For Animals underscores the need for America’s livestock industries to redouble their efforts to end animal abuse. Organizations representing every domestic livestock species have animal well-being programs in place. And over the past several years those programs have helped foster dramatic improvements in animal care.

All of those industry-implemented programs express a “zero tolerance” for animal abuse. Under such guidelines, the only possible grades our industries can achieve are pass or fail. Therefore, when it comes to issuing a grade on animal abuse, our collective industries are failing.

That sounds harsh, and it’s not meant to minimize the tremendous effort put forth by extension agents, association employees, veterinarians and producers. We’ve made a lot of progress, no doubt. But that one bad apple is still ruining the whole barrel.

Not that the target of the most recent undercover video is a bad apple. Quite the contrary, the owners of the Idaho dairy caught in this latest event are responsible, progressive livestock operators. They told the Associated Press they were appalled by the images depicted in the video and have taken swift and decisive steps to address the situation.

“And we also showed the video to all the rest of the employees in our dairies, all 500 employees, and they had to sign a deal that said they understand that there’s zero tolerance for animal abuse in our dairies,” the owner said.

The three former dairy workers allegedly caught abusing animals in the video have been charged with animal cruelty by the Twin Falls County prosecutor.

Unfortunately, the actions of the three workers placed the jobs of the other 500 employees in jeopardy. That’s because the dairy may lose some of its large customers. And the actions of those three also contribute to the gradual erosion of consumer confidence in food-animal products.

A news story about that undercover video on Drovers/CattleNetwork’s website brought reader comments from both sides of the issue. But one from an animal-rights activist and vegetarian known to Drovers/CattleNetwork wrote: “Animal cruelty is endemic to the dairy industry and agribusiness as a whole.” That statement is completely false, but as long as we have events such as the one last month this activist will be able to make such outrageous claims, a point the activist made at the end of the post: “You can bet this will be shared widely on Facebook and Twitter and I’ll do my part to make it happen.”

We may have made great strides in changing animal-care practices, but as long as animal abuse occurs 0.01 percent of the time, the opportunity exists for activists to exploit such actions with video distributed via Facebook and Twitter.

Our industries must continue to strive toward zero incidence for our zero-tolerance policies on animal abuse to work.


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