Whistleblowing works. Especially when there’s video.
Earlier this week, news hit that animal welfare group Compassion Over Killing had released a video — obtained by an undercover employee — of unspeakable abuse at Quality Pork Processors (“QPP”), a pork “processing” facility and supplier to Hormel Foods. Within 48 hours, Hormel promised action. It said it would be bringing “humane handling officers to the plant to ensure compliance with its own animal welfare standards” and directed QPP to “provide extra training, enhance compliance oversight and increase third-party auditing.” Huffington Post. The United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), provided with an unedited version of the video, has also promised an investigation. Adam Tarr, spokesman for the USDA, told the Washington Post that “[t]he actions depicted in the video under review are appalling and completely unacceptable, and if we can verify the video’s authenticity, we will aggressively investigate the case and take appropriate action.”
The promptness and substantial nature of the responses from Hormel and the USDA are notable. Much whistleblowing gets swept under the rug or explained away with responses of “it was just that one time,” “the rules are complicated,” or “you’re just angry and disgruntled.” A video puts the lie to these dodges.
The video also shines a spotlight on a government-approved program that allows slaughterhouses to run at increased speeds and with reduced government oversight. The QPP slaughterhouse was one of five included in the pilot project. Prior videos of this type have proven that government oversight is often insufficient to prevent these abuses, but this video puts in stark relief the dangers associated with increased reliance on self-regulation; at one point in the video, one worker even yells out, “[i]f the USDA is around, they could shut us down.” Mr. Tarr, the USDA’s spokesman agreed, stating, “[h]ad the[ actions depicted in the video] been observed by the inspectors, they would have resulted in immediate regulatory action against the plant.” The timing of the video could not be more opportune: the USDA is currently evaluating whether it will recommend that the pilot program become industry standard.
“Ag-gag” laws —laws specifically aimed at preventing this sort of whistleblowing activity —have been passed or attempted in numerous states, generally those with substantial animal-based agricultural practices. This video again demonstrates the danger of these laws. The images are never pleasant. We would all rather imagine that these animals’ lives and deaths are other than they often are. But if we care about accountability and compassionate use of animals, this type of documentary evidence is invaluable. As the responses here demonstrate, whistleblowing works. Especially when there’s video.
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