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Protecting your livelihood: Important steps for security

Allyson Jones-Brimmer for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 September 2019
Activists taking pictures

Security is not always top-of-mind for producers but, unfortunately, it’s necessary to protect the safety of your animals, people on your property and your livelihood.

Animal rights activists will go to great lengths to portray animal agriculture negatively, ranging from getting hired with the intent to record misleading videos to trespassing to holding large-scale protests.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the communication gap between farm and fork, has been monitoring animal rights activists for more than 30 years. The alliance recommends taking proactive steps to secure your facility by preventing and planning for any situations that may endanger your livestock or property.

Implement general security measures

The first and most important recommendation is to be beyond reproach. Animal care must be integral to your business and a core part of your culture. Have a clear animal care code of conduct that employees are required to sign and post it in public places for everyone to see. The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program has guidelines and resources in this area. It is also important to have an established process for reporting any deviations from that code and ensuring any violations are swiftly investigated.

To help ensure security, have proper lighting, motion detectors, security cameras and locks or key code access on gates and doors. Proactively connect with local law enforcement; let them know any concerns you have and ask for advice and protocol suggestions. If you do encounter any suspicious activity, immediately report it to law enforcement and notify the alliance and your state association.

Avoid hiring an ‘undercover activist’

Some animal rights organizations hire individuals to work on farms, ranches, feedlots or plants so they can record video. These highly edited and sometimes staged videos are distributed to the media or posted online to damage the industry’s reputation and prompt fundraising for these groups. In most cases, the activist videographer has left employment weeks or months before the videos are released, without having notified their managers of any animal care concerns. These videos do not accurately reflect the animal care practices of today’s livestock production.

To avoid having this happen at your facility, the alliance offers the following tips:

  • It is vital to thoroughly screen applicants, verify information and check all references.

  • Be cautious of individuals who try to use a college ID, have out-of-state license plates or are looking for short-term work.

  • During the interview, look for answers that seem overly rehearsed or include incorrect use of ag terminology.

  • Search for all applicants online to see if they have public social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.) or blogs. Look for any questionable content or connections to activist organizations.

  • Require all employees to sign your animal care policy. Provide proper animal-handling training and updates. Require employees to report any mishandling to management immediately.

  • Coming to work unusually early or staying late and going into areas not required for their job are red flags.

  • Be vigilant. If something does not seem right, explore it further.

When conducting a job interview, there are several questions you can ask to help determine if the applicant is truly interested in the position and helping your business or working on behalf of an activist organization. You can directly ask the applicant if they are working for any organization that is paying or asking them to collect information related to your company’s proprietary procedures or processes.

Observe their body language in addition to their answers. As always, it is important to work with local legal counsel to ensure compliance with federal and state laws for your hiring process.

Preparing for more aggressive tactics

Some animal rights extremist organizations are encouraging followers to use more aggressive tactics to disrupt any step of the food chain, such as trespassing, stealing animals and large-scale protests. Individuals have been found taking pictures or video of farms, ranches and feedlots from public property or with drones. They may use this footage similar to the ways they use “undercover videos,” or they could be planning to target the facility with an “open rescue” or protest.

Direct Action Everywhere, an organization with the goal of animal liberation, launched a “Frontline Surveillance Program,” which encourages individuals to go to farms uninvited and unannounced to record video. They say the purpose is to gather evidence “to showcase that criminal animal cruelty is happening all the time.” Project Calf, a group in the United Kingdom, has taken it one step further by creating a public map of farms and encouraging their followers to visit the farms.

Trespassers have been known to misrepresent themselves as USDA representatives or company personnel to gain access. In other scenarios, activists have posed as a reporter writing a story or an interested student seeking a volunteer opportunity in order to get access to a farm or feedlot.

Holding large-scale protests has become a more popular tactic over the last couple of years. In June, Direct Action Everywhere held a protest at a duck farm in California, which included some activists entering the facility and stealing animals, activists chaining themselves to the entry area of the facility and hundreds of activists spending several hours outside the facility.

They had a loudspeaker system set up for announcements, speeches and playing music. The entire event was live-streamed on Facebook. In another incident, activists stole a calf during the night and later returned to protest. They insisted the farm release the calf’s dam so they could be reunited.

Livestock transport has also become a target. Activists have approached trucks at truck stops to feed, water or “free” animals. Activists have shown up after a traffic accident to “rescue” livestock. The Save Movement often holds vigils at processing plants. They try to get in the way of trucks entering the plant and give animals food and water.

Similar incidents continue to happen across the country and globally – all producers are a potential target, no matter the size or location. The alliance shares these suggestions for handling unauthorized visitors or protesters:

  • Have a written protocol for handling visitors, and make sure all employees are aware of it. Verify the identity of any unexpected visitors, including asking for identification. Visitors should be escorted at all times.

  • Carefully evaluate all inquiries and information requests you receive. Gather as much information as possible about who is requesting the information and why, then reply in writing (if a response is needed at all).

  • It is vital to have a relationship with local law enforcement before you need them. Report details of any suspicious behavior to law enforcement.

  • Post “no trespassing” signs.

  • Always assume activists are recording – and likely live-streaming – their interaction with you and your employees. Remain calm and avoid confrontation. You can record the incident as well so you have your own account of the situation.

  • Monitor threats by watching for warning signs, such as an increase in requests for information and unusual interest in gaining employment. You can use Google Alerts to monitor media coverage of your business, industry or location. Activists often use social media to organize, so search social media regularly.

  • Develop a crisis plan. Proactive planning and preparation can help a situation immensely if you become a target.

If you would like to discuss security measures in more detail, contact the Animal Ag Alliance or by calling (703) 562-5160. The alliance can help you stay vigilant to protect your reputation and that of animal agriculture as a whole. Visit Animal Ag Alliance for more information on alliance membership. end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

Allyson Jones-Brimmer
  • Allyson Jones-Brimmer

  • Director of Industry Relations
  • Animal Agriculture Alliance

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