“Ugh, another undercover video.” I think this was a common sentiment in the pork industry this week as the Mercy for Animals organization released undercover video claiming to show animal abuse  in a pork production facility. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was only too happy to promote the release of this video. And the Mercy for Animals organization was once again very open about this being another attempt at blackmailing a major retail chain into discontinuing the purchase of pork raised on a farm that used gestation stalls. Like it or not, pork producer and current president of the National Pork Producer’s Council (NPPC) Randy Spronk  became collateral damage in an ongoing war—ultimately against meat consumption.
It’s a real shame, too, because the production system targeted this time around is well-known for working very hard to prioritize employee training and proper animal care and handling procedures. Sadly, all it takes is one employee, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, and the person with the hidden camera who cares more about a cause than stopping the alleged animal mistreatment  that is occurring in front of them at that moment.
Organizations such as the Center for Food Integrity have worked hard to promote initiatives, such as the “See It, Stop It” campaign to encourage livestock farm employees to immediately report animal abuse. And veterinarians within the Pipestone System  organization, of which Spronk’s farm is part, have worked with producers to help train and empower employees to step in when another employee is mishandling livestock.
Just one year ago, I attended a Minnesota Pork Producers Association training seminar in which Carissa Odland, DVM, director of Animal Welfare for the Pipestone System, talked about the fact that no matter how hard a producer tries in this day and age, the worst can still happen. Ironically, and, as it turns out, somewhat prophetically, making a reference to the tactics that groups such as Mercy for Animals use to pressure retailers by using undercover videos , Odland said at that time, “The number one reason we work hard to continuously improve is because we care about our animals and our employees. However, it’s important to realize that just because you get your house in order, doesn’t mean you won’t end up on YouTube (the video channel).” How right she was.
There are many facets of this most recent undercover video incident that prove particularly frustrating. If the employee doing the filming was so concerned about the animals, why didn’t she stop the abuse? How do these insincere people, with no apparent regard for the animals entrusted to their care, manage to secure these jobs? But perhaps the more troubling question is what can the pork industry do to stop this attack against meat consumption? Controversial “Ag Gag” laws were making some progress, but perhaps not enough.
In the end, producers are working against a system built on blackmail. The Pipestone County Star reported this week that officials from Walmart had come to the community to tour the pork production facilities in the wake of this video release. When I attended a Mercy for Animals press conference  last year following the release of another video taken on a pork operation, the organization’s spokesperson was very open about the fact that videos are taken in specifically targeted operations with the intention of showing the videos to the retail companies that the farms supply. If the retailers agree to make a statement about stopping the purchase of pork from farms using gestations stalls, the video is not released to the media. Does that sound like they really care about the animals? The spokesman also admitted that the over-arching goal of the organization is to promote a complete departure from meat consumption.
As I looked over the stories we have posted this week to keep National Hog Farmer readers updated as this situation has progressed, I couldn’t help but notice one common word in each headline in stories such as, “NPPC Responds to Latest Undercover Hog Farm Video,”  or “Pipestone System Issues Response to Animal Abuse Allegations.”  The key word seems to be, “responds.” We know our producers are good stewards of our animals. We know that science- and research-based production methods have been proven to keep our animals safe and healthy. What can the pork industry do to be more successful when it comes to preventing bad people from attacking good pork producers?
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