From the July-August issue of Bovine Veterinarian: A recent case of video-taped animal abuse on a Colorado dairy illustrates a couple of disturbing trends. The first is that these cases continue to occur. The second trend, which Dairy Farmers of America pointed out in a statement following release of the video, is that undercover activists are more concerned with collecting damaging video footage than with stopping mistreatment of animals.

In this case, an undercover activist with Mercy for Animals was employed as a milker at the dairy in Morgan County. She spent two months recording incidents of abuse before turning the videos over to media and the local sheriff’s department.

The dairy’s owners, upon seeing the video, took immediate action in disciplining the employees involved and cooperating with law enforcement to pursue charges against the offenders. They would have, however, much preferred to learn of the abuse, and put an end to it, two months earlier.

“We are appalled that these incidents took place here and have taken disciplinary action against all of the employees involved, including several prior to our knowledge of the video as part of our normal dairy management,” said the farm owners in a statement. “We take great pride in our family farm and in the care we provide to our animals. We will not tolerate any mistreatment.”

These incidents reveal a thread of hypocrisy within the extreme animal-rights groups. They claim their mission is to stop animal abuse, and yet they allow it to continue because it makes, for their purposes, “good TV,” attracting headlines and financial donors. Their real goals are not to stop individual cases of abuse but to cause financial harm to livestock operations, put farms out of business and, ultimately, end animal agriculture altogether.

The ag community can, however, work to end virtually all cases of blatant animal abuse. Veterinarians and other consultants can play a key role by helping create a culture of good stewardship and non-tolerance of animal mistreatment on clients’ farms and ranches. Employee training and education provide a good start, particularly if supported by an established set of standards and outside audits such as through the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program.

On a day-to-day basis, consultants and managers can remind crew members that animal mistreatment is neither accepted nor tolerated. Employees who see a team member using questionable handling practices should tell the individual to stop and, if the behavior continues, report it to the operation’s management immediately. Perhaps farms could create incentive programs to reward exemplary animal treatment and even to encourage timely “whistle blowing” if abuse ever occurs.

Farm and ranch managers often struggle to find honest, responsible workers with animal-handling experience, which is why an occasional abusive individual (or undercover animal-rights activist) slips through. As a result, they face a continuing challenge in trying to ensure compliance with animal-welfare standards. Most abusive behavior can be prevented through training, reinforcement and monitoring. But when instances of abuse do occur, an institutional culture that encourages non-tolerance of abuse, immediate reporting and swift, appropriate disciplinary action can nip it in the bud, and derail the irresponsible tactics of extremist groups.

See more articles on the Secure Beef Supply project, feeding waste milk to dairy calves, the Veterinary Feed Directive rule and the veterinarian’s role in protecting consumer confidence in the July-August digital edition of Bovine Veterinarian.