Undercover video camera
May 3, 2019

Avoid Becoming A Victim Of An Undercover Activist Video

 |  By: Mike Opperman

An undercover video showing scenes of animal abuse was taken at Larson Dairy, near Okechobee, Florida. Jacob Larson, who manages the dairy, had no warning, and was caught completely off guard when a phone call from a television reporter alerted him of the video when it appeared online. 

Looking back on the incident, Larson says while there were red flags that should have alerted him to the employee's true intentions, at the time those indicators went unnoticed. 

While it is difficult to avoid becoming the victim of an activist with a strong desire to paint the practices on your dairy in a negative light, there are areas of the dairy you can closely monitor that may identify some of the red flags that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. When it comes to trying to avoid being the victim of an undercover video like Larson Dairy, Jamie Jonker, vice president of sustainability and scientific affairs with the National Milk Producers Federation, says there are two primary focus areas:

1. Hiring practices. It’s difficult when farmers are in such a tight and competitive labor market to be extra critical when hiring someone who appears willing and able to do the work. “Just hiring a warm body to do a job probably is the worst thing you can do,” Jonker says.

The activist who showed up at Larson’s farm looking for work was Caucasian, well-trained and, according to Larson, able to do the job. He wasn’t the best at milking cows, but he was able to keep up and didn’t want to quit which, Larson says, should have been a red flag right there. 

But, looking back, Larson says there were two other instances that should have been indicators that he had ulterior motives. First, whenever Larson had interaction with the employee, the person asked to work with baby calves. Also Larson had employees sign a “see it, stop it” document that says employees will immediately report any animal abuse. The employee wanted a copy of that document in addition to all of the documents he signed as part of the hiring process. Generally no one else who signs that paperwork wants a copy, Larson says. 

“If something is too good to be true, it probably is,” Jonker says. “Follow up on references. If they say they’ve worked on dairy farms, which ones? Who are the references?” One of the undercover workers at another farm was working an overnight shift for probably reasonable money but was driving an expensive car to and from work. That’s probably a red flag.

2.    Stay on top of protocols. Even after you hire someone, Jonker recommends an onboarding period that allows you to fire someone within a short time period after being hired. And have the right training and oversight protocols to make sure employees are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program provides evaluations and continuous improvement plans to help producers ensure that protocols are being followed and animals are cared for in the right way. But, as Jonker says, those evaluations are just a snapshot in time and are not meant to be a substitute for everyday farm management. 

“That commitment to assuring that farm employees are doing their best to implement successful animal care programs is the responsibility of the farm employees, management and owners on a daily basis,” Jonker says.