More and more states are enacting laws that prohibit employees from taking undercover videos of livestock operations.
Sounds like a win for ag, right? Well, sort of, says Joe Miller, general counsel for Rose Acre Farms, the second largest producer of eggs in the U.S. Unfortunately, the laws only allow aggrieved farms to push back against the actual employee who took the video. So getting to the animal rights group who uses the video for their benefit is extremely difficult. (Miller spoke last week at the Illinois Soybean Association's Livestock Symposium in Springfield.)
To date, most legislators have felt a defamation lawsuit is the proper arena for striking back against the animal rights group that used the undercover video, Miller notes. Again, sounds good, but there's a little thing called reality that gums everything up.
The reality is the media coverage surrounding an undercover video that alleges animal abuse can destroy a farm's reputation in a matter of weeks. The following defamation lawsuit can take more than two years, Miller says. By that time, most everyone has moved on and the farm may never recover.
Not only that, but taking legal action against the former employee is fairly useless. Most of these folks are using fake names and supplying bogus employment histories, Miller notes. Plus, they rarely live in the state where they’re shooting video. This means they have to be extradited, something that rarely, if ever happens in these cases. Additionally the people taking the undercover videos have little to no possessions to their name so virtually nothing can be recovered by the farm.
Even if they did, the financial compensation from an individual who shoots undercover videos for a living probably won’t repair the damage. Not to mention, most of these folks aren’t receiving huge cash payoffs from animal rights groups. They’re more often doing it for the notoriety and to “further the cause.”
In the end, Miller says it’s much easier to weed these folks out up front, in the application process. Check references! Sure, you may have a lot of turnover. Still, doing the due diligence is a lot more cost effective than handling a media fiasco.
And, Miller knows a thing or two about these situations. Rose Acre Farms unknowingly hired an undercover plant from HSUS in 2010. The employee shot three hours of video, which was edited down to 3 minutes. HSUS screened the video and did not allow anyone from agriculture to be present.
Rose Acre Farms was proactive. They were in the hallways of the press conference and held a little press conference of their own. They invited every member of the media to visit any farm location at any time. They had one taker. The nightly news reported none of HSUS’ claims were verified in their footage.
For more on undercover videos, check out the upcoming April issue of Prairie Farmer.