Will Video Surveillance Transform How Slaughterhouses and Factory Farms Operate?

After countless undercover video recordings exposing animal abuse violations on factory farms and slaughterhouses over the past several years, a new US regulatory platform on addressing the issue of farm animal welfare seems to be emerging. Could it be that regulators are finally listening to the overwhelming majority of consumers expressing concern about the treatment of farm animals in the industrialized and mechanized animal factories that produce 98% of our meat and dairy products today?

The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sub-agency responsible for overseeing animal handling at most slaughterhouses, recently proposed draft guidelines for the meat industry, encouraging the use of video monitoring at slaughter facilities. Research and other investigations demonstrate that animal handling violations are rarely reported or properly addressed, yet the agency only suggests that slaughterhouses use video technology to expand oversight.

Video surveillance as a standard practice in the animal agriculture industry would be an important part of a solution to address the shortage of on-site inspectors necessary to monitor the some 9.5 billion animals slaughtered annually in this country for food. It would also provide a disincentive to would-be animal abusers. Those operations that claim to be in compliance with laws can finally prove it. And those that do not can be more easily prosecuted for violations of animal welfare and humane slaughter laws. And while these laws remain weak, it would still be an important step forward for animal protection.

FSIS has invited public comment on their proposed draft guidelines. Please take a moment to submit your comments directly to the agency by going here. For ideas on what to say, see Farm Sanctuary’s page on commenting.

The question on many of our minds is: will the media and the public have access to the video coverage? Or will it only be released to authorized government personnel? That remains to be seen. It would be hard to imagine the highly-secretive corporate food industry allowing us to peer inside their controversial world without a lot of resistance and politics. But who knows? Perhaps they are finally succumbing to the demand for greater transparency and see how this could benefit them also.

In Glass Walls, narrator Paul McCartney famously said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we probably would not be so enthusiastic about eating animals. No, these are not his exact words, but the sentiment is the same. Let’s all have the courage to see the truth and look directly into the eyes of an animal that feels fear and pain just as we do. A video monitor could expose us all to this truth and provide a powerful incentive to look for alternatives to meat of which there are more and more all the time.

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