A new year is finally upon us, and I’m sure I am not the only one who is excited to turn the page on 2020. While I’m hopeful that we’ll leave many of the challenges of last year in the past, there is one that I’m confident is following us into 2021: animal rights activism.
Animal rights activist groups have been busier than ever, as they view the COVID-19 pandemic as a “tipping point” toward overhauling the food system and ending animal agriculture. That means we need to pay more attention to farm security than ever before, and there are several new or emerging trends in activism for all farmers to be aware of going forward.
Building relationships in local communities – While some groups still attempt to have activists get hired by farms in order to conduct “undercover” investigations, others have turned their focus on finding internal connections (such as employees or contractors) who will give them inside information or allow them access to barns and other facilities. Activists may offer financial compensation, try to convince employees that they should help them take down “big ag,” or just attempt to get information by forming friendships.
All family members and employees should be informed about the threat of activism, including this tactic. It may be helpful to explain how activists have an agenda to promote that would include your farm (and therefore their job) no longer existing. No unauthorized visitors should be allowed access to your farm, and everyone should be suspicious of new acquaintances who persistently ask for details about the operation.
Installation of hidden cameras and audio recording devices — Several times over the past year, activists have been caught going into facilities and leaving behind cameras and other recording devices. Activists will pose as farm employees or technicians affiliated with farm vendors in order to get access and install devices that either transmit footage wirelessly or record footage that they will come back and retrieve.
Farmers should be very vigilant about any unknown visitors, including those pretending to be with known vendors. Always verify identities and accompany visitors that are on your farm. If you do find an unknown device on your farm, do not remove it yourself — contact law enforcement right away and have them handle documentation and removal.
Animal theft — This is not a new tactic but it continues to occur, including on dairies. Activists will come on to farms (usually at night) and “rescue” calves to take them to sanctuaries. They will then come forward to release footage of the “rescue,” usually months or even years later. If you have a calf go missing, you have to consider this as a possibility. If you have security cameras installed (which you should), check footage to see if there are any suspicious individuals or vehicles present. Make sure you save any footage or images you do have in your files. And of course, report the incident to law enforcement.
By taking basic farm security measures and being aware of the potential for activism, we can help mitigate activist influence on our business and make sure this is indeed a happy new year.
The author is communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance.