The Power of Undercover Videos

Ciara Smyth

            On Friday, November 18th 2011, McDonald’s and Target announced they were dropping one of their main egg suppliers after videos emerged showing the supplier’s employees engaging in multiple acts of cruelty against its animals.  The undercover videos  shot by the animal activist group Mercy for Animals show various acts of severe cruelty  being committed against the birds at different facilities of Sparboe Farms, a Minnesota based company.

The courageous acts of individuals from organizations like Mercy for Animals, and the internet, have become a farm animals’ best friend.  As blogger George Buchanan correctly states in his discussion of the workers harming the hens, many other animal right organizations have also gone undercover to expose the conditions of poultry farms.  Just recently, after the release of undercover videos taken at a slaughterhouse by Richard Couto and his organization, The Animal Recovery Mission, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the City of Hialeah Police Department arrested an accused ringleader of the illegal slaughterhouse.  He was subsequently charged him with three counts of animal abuse and 40 counts of confining animals without food or water. Rudesindo “Rudy” Acosta and his associates’ acts of brutal violence against hundreds of helpless animals, including cows, horses, sheeps, pigs and ducks, is beyond egregious and completely shocking to the conscience.
           Undercover video taken includes the repeated beating of pigs with sledgehammers while their stomachs are sliced open.  In one instance, “the killer actually put his hand in the pig’s jugular and ripped it out with his bare hands” said Couto.  Investigators also allege that animals were butchered and boiled alive in some instances.  Another video shows a cow struggling to stay alive after being shot.  Its head is draped over a bucket and a knife rammed into its throat. “I can’t imagine what that animal was going through,” said Couto. Animals are kept aliive to slowly bleed out because the blood has monetary value and is used to make blackened sausage.  Investigators told reporters that more slaughterhouse raids could be coming. They say they’re not going to allow this kind of animal abuse in their city. Just last week, the accused ringleader made his first appearance in Miami-Dade County bond court.  The judge set bail for $500,001.  Yup – over half a million dollars – now this is a judge I would like to shake hands with!

Many corporations will turn a blind eye to the conditions of their food suppliers – until the existence of those conditions potentially jeopardizes their wallets.  As D. Gordon Smith reiterates in his article entitled, “Saving the World with Corporate Law?” (Westlaw # 57 EMORYLJ 985, Emory Law Journal, 2008), the existence of powerful product and capital markets is what drives corporate actions. Last year Sparboe Farms issued a voluntary recall of their eggs for possible salmonella contamination.  Many of the major corporations doing business with them, including Walmart, issued statements to their customers that they would continue to work with the supplier to ensure proper sanitary conditions were met.  The recent decision by the companies to completely sever ties with the supplier as a result of the release of undercover videos showing employees engaging in acts of cruelty against the animals, could be because of the continued health code violations that were exposed in the undercover videos.  However, perhaps the drastic choice to sever ties was more rooted in the company’s recognition that the conduct captured in the footage had the potential to make its customers just as sick, or even sicker, then a dose of salmonella.

In her discussion on the issue, blogger Heather Schlemm raises questions as to what effect the videos will have on big business and praises the videos for bringing attention to an area in farming practices so many Americans are unaware exist.  Another positive aspect that could result from these videos is that it will encourage consumers to ask what else are corporations failing to notice?  if the executives of McDonalds, including the Vice President of Sustainability, “missed” what was really occurring at one of their largest suppliers, then what else are they failing to notice?  What about their cattle or fish suppliers?  One can hope two things (1) that investigators in Hialeah keep their promise to continue to raid slaughterhouses and that investigators all over the country follow; and (2) that courts and judges pick up where corporations slack, and that charges are brought, bails are set high and the penalties severe for violations of cruelty laws.

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3 Responses

  1. Most people have no idea what is done to farm animals to obtain the meat that is bought in supermarkets, just as many of those people that wear fur have no clue. Let’s face it, I am generalizing, many people don’t even care. If knowledge is power, then transparency is needed so people can make an informed decision.

  2. Apparently Knowledge is no longer power. I am a vegeterian, trying to be vegan. I am appalled by the videos that I see. I have shared these with some of my meat eating friends. They just don’t care. They agree that animals should not be abused, but then they also won’t stop eating meat. That’s true of most of the meat eating people I have encountered so far. They know that animals suffer on factory farms, they know that animals are systemically abused but they still support this cruel industry by buying meat, eggs and milk and fish. They just dont care as long as they get to eat their ribs and bacon and steaks. This speaks volumes about the moral fabric of the society in which we live nowadays. People just don’t give a damn.

  3. Hi Ciara – That judge that you’d like to shake hands with can be seen in this video of the sentencing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzHLCEcM5cQ&feature=uploademail

    Be warned. As with all slaughter facilities – nothing is pretty… I can’t imagine how videos such as this don’t repulse people from eating flesh no matter how it’s obtained. All of it is just horrible.

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