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 farm by preventing and planning for any situations that may endanger your livestock or property. Farm security is important for biosecurity, the safety of people and livestock, and reputation management.
General security tips
The first and most important recommendation we give 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 employees and visitors to see. 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 Animal Ag Alliance, your cooperative and your state association.
Some animal rights organizations hire individuals to work on farms so they can record video for the organization as a strategy to damage the reputation of our industry. These highly edited and sometimes staged videos are distributed to the media or posted online to influence public opinion 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 the farm owners or managers of any animal care concerns. These videos do not accurately reflect the animal care practices of today's farms.
To avoid having this happen on your farm, 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 farm terminology.
- Search for all applicants online to see if they have public social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.) or websites 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 of the farm 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 to gain employment. 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.
Visitors on the farm
It is common for a farm to have several planned and unplanned visitors throughout the day – veterinarians, salespeople, consultants and even a curious passerby. Trespassers will take advantage of this and have been known to arrive at farms and processing plants claiming to be USDA representatives or company personnel. 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 barns.
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.
Over the last year, holding large-scale protests at farms has become a more popular tactic. In May 2018, Direct Action Everywhere held a 500-person “open rescue” at an egg farm in California. 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. Similar incidents continue to happen at farms across the country and globally – all producers are a potential target no matter the size or location.
The alliance shares these suggestions:
- Have a written protocol for handling visitors, and make sure all family members and 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.
- It is vital to have a relationship with local law enforcement before you need them. Share with them examples of potential incidents and ask for their advice. Report details of any suspicious behavior to law enforcement.
- Post “no trespassing” signs.
- Always assume activists are recording – and likely livestreaming – 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 farm name, industry and region. 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 via email or by calling (703) 562-5160. We can help you stay vigilant to protect your reputation and that of animal agriculture as a whole. Visit the Animal Agriculture Alliance website for more information on an alliance membership.
Allyson Jones-Brimmer is the director of industry relations for Animal Agriculture Alliance.