Britain Set to Consider Required Video Surveillance in Slaughterhouses

Gillian Lyons

As fellow blog writer Adonia Davis mentioned in her blog posted earlier today, in 2007 undercover videos shot by the HSUS at California slaughterhouses showed horrific footage of abuses being committed against downed cows.  Partially as a result of these videos, the State of California passed a law requiring that downed animals be humanely euthanized.  Unfortunately it looks like the Supreme Court may overturn said law due to conflicts with federal law.  For more information see Adonia’s post.

It is also unfortunate that the incidence of cruelty against those downed cows in the California slaughterhouse was not an insolated incident.  Numerous organizations throughout the United States, and the world have conducted undercover investigations and discovered similar abuses.  For instance, Animal Aid, an organization based in Britain conducted similar undercover investigations and released videos of various abuses being committed.

It seems, however, that these investigations may have paid off- at least in Britain.  According to news sources, the outcry as a result of Animal Aid’s video releases prompted several of Britain’s largest slaughterhouses to install video surveillance in an attempt to monitor the conduct of their employees.  Furthermore, the videos have lit a fire under the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, which is now considering the implementation of required video surveillance at all slaughterhouses in England, Scotland and Wales.

Unfortunately things are not going quite as well in the United States, as there is more governmental push-back against similar undercover investigations and campaigns.  In New York, S5172-2011, a bill which strives to make illegal the use of audio recording or photography at a farm without the owner’s consent, is currently pending before the State Senate.  A similar bill is also pending in Iowa, which would criminalize the distribution or possession of video taken without permission at an agricultural facility.

The bright light at the end of a dark tunnel is that two similar bills- one in Minnesota and one in Florida have both failed.  However, this bright light is dim.  We can only hope that some day in the future, a discussion of transparency such that is occurring in Britain will start happening here, on our home turf.

11 Responses

  1. It will happen here when pigs fly!

  2. Maria, your comments are always punchy — and priceless. However, I pray your “when pigs fly!” prediction is wrong!

    Gillian, thanks for telling us in the U.S. about the hue and cry in Britain. I wasn’t aware of the video surveillance idea.

    One part of me agrees that transparency is needed.

    But a greater part of me says, “Transparency won’t make a difference. People already know what goes on in there; that’s why they turn away, pretend to be ignorant, or force themselves forget.”

    What’s needed, I think, is a heart transplant — an excision of self-indulgence, apathy, and arrogance, and an infusion of unselfish affection, compassion, and humility.

    A nationwide heart transplant would cause those slaughterhouse walls to come tumbling down for lack of business. Then there’d be no need for videocams.

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  4. Small, pastoral, family-run farms and ranches tend toward being sociologically important and ecologically sound.

    Large, industrialized operations have always raised environmental, ethical and health concerns.

  5. Yes, animal slave farms, like the human slave plantations of yore, give the illusion of being “pastoral.”

  6. CQ,
    I don’t put much stock in attempts to drive arguments by rhetoric and anthropomorphic equivocation.
    Having spent considerable time around small, family run spreads – and even paid for a good part of my college education by working summers on one – I know well the sociological, economic and conservation value of them.
    I have also encountered large, industrialized operations – most notably, gigantic confined-animal dairy “farms” in southern Idaho.
    I saw for myself how ecologically damaging and ethically offensive they can be, in terms of how the animals are kept and treated.
    Not to mention, highly exploitative of local economies and the dairy workers, many of whom are illegal immigrants.
    Just another example of how our society has become increasingly defined by urbanization, mass production, the accumulation of monetary wealth at any cost and disconnection – from the land, from animals, from each other and even from our own essential selves.

  7. Hi HAL 9000,

    To kill animals, who value their lives every bit as much as you value yours, is to be disconnected from one’s essential self, period. To say so is not rhetoric, is not anthropomorphizing and is not equivocation. I understand, though, that it’s impossible to recognize this when one is determined to keep finding unjustifiable reasons to kill. Nothing I say can wake others up from a state of denial when they are determined to stay asleep to the truth.

    Howard Lyman and Harold Brown are two men from animal agriculture backgrounds who tell anyone who will listen to them how swiftly their farming culture desensitized them as young boys. Harold says he was not allowed to show his feelings for the animals; it was considered “girlish” by the menfolk. Both men came to their senses, found their deeply buried compassion for animals, and are now activists who tour the country promoting justice and unconditional love for all our fellow-beings. They’re both featured at length in the award-winning independent film, PEACEABLE KINGDOM: THE JOURNEY HOME, whose DEV is due to debut soon — I hope!

    HAL 9000, would you please do me the kind favor of reading the essays and watching the videos and slideshows on I ask this because I truly believe you are cheating yourself out of enjoying God’s creatures in a deeply meaningful, delightful and soul-freeing way by not seeking to understand why I and others here speak as we do. And that website will surely explain what I mean, if you will agree to be even a little bit open to its message.

    Some of us here used to think exactly like you. It’s how we were raised. Then we had an epiphany, and realized that society has been lying to us about animals, confining them to the status of property so that humans could continue to profit off of them. That injustice, called speciesism, has sadly claimed too many victims over the centuries. attempts to reclaim those victims’ humanity.

  8. CQ, as I’ve alluded to before, I’ve been at this (discussing and debating animal rights/welfare) for a long time. A typical argument raised by AR is that those who disagree are somehow de-sensitiesed or unaware of some great epiphany that could lead them to the truth.

    With me, and with many who disagree — and favor animal welfare, not “rights” — that simply is not the case. I know very well the arguments you’re trying to make. I don’t disagree out of ignorance or cold-heartedness. It’s that I simply find the underlying ideas to be untenable, and, frankly, requiring a fundamental break from reality I’m simply unwilling to make.

    Don’t for a second assume my relationship with and to animals is anything short of rich and wonderful. I’m simply don’t assign them “personhood.” I find that to be both degrading to humans and, frankly, rather patronizing toward animals. They are what they are. They don’t need to be defined according to our assumptions or misplaced sentiments.

    “Speciesism” is, to me, an essentially loaded, rhetorical — but ultimately meaningless — term. Of course I favor my kind first. Every living thing does.
    Humans are part of the web of life. Being part of the web of life means a degree of using and taking. That’s simply reality. There is nothing wrong or against nature in one form of life using or taking from another. When it’s all over for me here, my body will feed worms and microbes.

    For me, it’s not a question of principle, but rather, of degree.

    Our society consumes too much meat. Of that, there is no question.
    We also raise too much meat in ways that are bad for the environment and cruel to animals, not to mention, detrimental to our health.

    Doubtlessly, the world would be better off if more people — especially those living in metropolitan areas and unable to grow, raise or hunt their own food — were vegetarian, or at least only very occasional consumers of meat. In fact, I’ve no doubt that in the future, such a world is sure to manifest.

    I’m doing my part by doing my level best to consume what I grow, hunt or what was raised by agriculturalists I know directly — rather than what’s been mass produced. I’m fortunate, I know, because I live in an area that is surrounded by agriculture and on the cusp of vast tracts of wilderness. Not everybody is afforded such direct access to opportunity to be self sufficient.

    But, to equate animal husbandry with slavery or mass murder is simply absurd.

    A farm animal that is raised and kept in good care, and then subjected to a quick, painless death has been cast a far better lot than any of its wild cousins could ever hope for. In the greater scheme of things, we’re actually displaying unprecedented magnanimity toward other kinds in that regard. No other living creature has the capacity, or the inherent moral obligation, to do so. No other creature has the inclination or time to even entertain such thoughts. Nature, and the animal world, are strictly utilitarian — often brutally so.

    Can we do better? Absolutely, and therein lies the power of individual choices. But don’t expect everybody’s outlook and choices to mirror your own, and don’t assume those who differ from you arrived at their positions because of ignorance, apathy or disregard.

  9. HAL 9000, I didn’t catch that you had been at these discussions a long time. Why, may I ask, do you keep returning to this website? Do you hope that people who are active on behalf of rights for animals will be convinced by your words?

    Your utilitarian, individual-choice argument for killing animals rings hollow to me. My non-utilitarian arguments for not killing them sound absurd to you. So there we have it. We see reality through two entirely different lens. So it’d be a waste of time for me to comment on the specifics of your last post.

    Before I bow out of this blog for good, though, I’d like to share one thought a friend emailed me yesterday.

    By way of background, this friend and her husband have three young sons and countless rescued animals — five dogs, two turtles, two beta fish, a gerbil, a crab and a geiko at last count.

    She has always thought of herself as someone who adores animals. Based on an observation I made in a phone conversation last summer (I don’t recall my remark, but it apparently made a deep impression on her), she decided to ask herself whether all her actions squared with her values, her heart, her conscience.

    She realized she was being double-minded by seeing creature companions and backyard wildlife one way and defaced, dead animals on her plate another way.

    In that moment of truth, she became single-minded.

    Her last email said simply: “As Love’s* tender child, each of us naturally cherishes the fact that there need be no violence associated with our food.”

    Needless to say, I agree.

    *She thinks of Love, capitalized, as a synonym for God.

  10. CQ,
    I’m one of those who cares about animals and ecology on the large-picture level. Agonizing over to fate of each individual creature is neither reasonable, or likely to produce any meaningful results, in my view.

    Death is simply a part of life, and everything is consumed by something else. Animals don’t waste time obsessing over those things. And for that matter, plants have lives that they subjectively value just as much as any animal or human subjectively values their own. Whether plants feel pain might be impossible to determine. But I’ve no doubt, they have a level of awareness. There might very well be some sense of dread going through a field of grain as the harvest begins.

    There’s evidence, for example, that trees share some form of communication among each other. And why wouldn’t they? It only makes sense that they would.

    My ultimate point being, logical observation would seem to pull one toward the conclusion that the entire planet is one big, interconnected, living organism. I guess we just disagree over the level and nature of an individual’s participation in that system. As I see it, entities consume other entities all the time. Something is always becoming part of something else. It’s how the system works. There’s no way around it, and certainly no intrinsic wrong or violation of nature in it.

    I come to this website because I’m passionate about animal and ecology issues. I’m an unabashed advocate for animal welfare, sound agriculture practices and wildland and wildlife conservation. I also like challenging ideas, and having mine challenged. As I’ve stated previously, I find hanging out in an echo chamber insufferable.

    And I agree about love. Love might not be the only attribute of God, but its certainly a vital one we could use more of.

  11. CQ – I think today’s World Peace Diet post says it all about illusions and indoctrination. They just become invisible.

    I agree with you too that even if “glass walls” become a slaughterhouse standard – You can’t force people to see if they refuse to open their eyes (hearts) – No matter what videos would show.

    The only way to change people… To make a better world is through their minds.

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