Increasingly, animal rights activists are targeting farming operations with undercover video stings designed to generate maximum media attention, warns LeClairRyan shareholder David L. Cook, writing in recent editions of Dairy Business magazine.
He says, however, farmers can take steps to exclude infiltrators in the first place and if there is a breach, take legal and other steps to fight back.
“Since 2005, more than two dozen undercover videos have been released in more than 10 states relating to animal agriculture,” explains Cook, who represents farmers in the northeastern U.S. from his office in Rochester, NY. “These operations use shock and sensationalism to gain media coverage and, ultimately, impact public opinion and disrupt markets.”
Cook says a good defense starts with the hiring process. A resume without an agricultural background could provide a signal that the applicant is an undercover plant. “It is perfectly appropriate and legal to ask in an employment interview or an application if a prospective employee is a member of or supports animal rights organizations,” he writes. “In addition, agricultural employers should require all employees to sign a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement which includes a prohibition against taking or distributing photographs or video of any aspect of their employment.”
Violators should be dismissed, which should be legal in most states. Protect your operation with security and surveillance systems. Employees should report co-workers who are making videos, taking pictures or otherwise not following established policies and principles.
If targeted, an attorney should interview all employees who have been in association with the undercover employee.
“Immediately contact your veterinarian and ensure that all records are up to date and can be provided to law enforcement, if necessary,” he says. Remember the burden of proof is on the government to prove a criminal act has been committed.
Proactively dealing with law enforcement increases your chances of demonstrating that no violation of the animal cruelty laws has taken place, avoiding prosecution altogether, Cook says.
“The take-home point is that in the face of a crisis brought on by an undercover operation, do not panic and succumb to activist pressure,” he says.
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