December 20, 2017

Undercover Videos Aren’t Going Away, Here's How To Protect Yourself

 |  By: Jane Hillstrom

Over the last couple of months, an animal activist group released undercover videos shot on dairy farms. These investigative videos show damaging images. At the end of the video the group asks the viewers to say, “no to all dairy products ... choose a plant based diet.”

How do you avoid animal activists coming to your farm? First, don’t give them a reason to visit. However, even with iron clad protocols on animal handling and care practices, sharing your strong beliefs about proper animal care with everyone who comes in contact with your animals, and creating an easy process to encourage and enable employees to immediately report any signs of animal neglect or mishandling, you are still vulnerable. These investigators can breach through your security with training, filters, and editing.

Consumers are so far removed from raising their own food that even practices such as pulling a calf can look abusive. What can the dairy community do to protect themselves?

  1. Ask questions and conduct reference checks. When you interview employees ask if he/she is a member of or if they support an animal rights organization. Realizing they can lie, the next tip may help.
  2. Have an employee contract in place. Work with your legal team to develop an employee contract. Include language that states that if the employee takes, distributes or shares photos or videos, they are subject to $5,000 in damages.
  3. Visit the online site “See it. Stop it.” This is an initiative to provide those who work around animals with guidance to immediately report any instances of animal abuse, neglect, harm or mishandling. Visit
  4. Dedicate yourself to continuous improvement. Ask your veterinarian for guidance. Ask how your animal care practices can be improved. Update your protocols and training.
  5. Be in the barn. Walking around gives you an opportunity to look for improvement. Rely on your managers to be an extra set of eyes.
  6. Look at things with a consumer’s eye. It’s easy to scare someone in a few seconds, but you can’t educate them in a few seconds. Consumers have demands in how their food is raised and, ultimately, they win by voting at the grocery store. Some accepted farm practices may look cruel, but it doesn’t mean they are wrong. Use analogies when explaining farming practices.
  7. Make deposits in your credibility bank before a crisis. The past can’t be changed. The future is in your power. Conduct your own public relations. Now is the time to make a video of how you care for your animals and share it on social media, host farm tours and support local non-profits.

This is dairy’s new normal. Activists have upped their game. Always look for signs of a crisis and proactively prepare for one. It won’t stop a crisis from happening, but will shorten your recovery time.


In a session on hiring yesterday, we discussed your first point of asking questions. We discussed the importance of asking open ended question (questions that cannot be answered by yes or no) to get applicants talking so they reveal their true feelings. Questions included: "What do you think of vegetarians?," "What types of foods do you like the best?," and "What are your favorite animals?"
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