Opinion: Using cameras in abbattoirs to monitor animal welfare

“Everything works fine when I’m there, then six months later some activist gets in (the abattoir) with a camera and there’s bad stuff going on.”

This is a quote from Dr Temple Grandin, who has changed the design on half of all North America’s abattoirs.

Pressure is mounting for cameras to be installed in abattoirs. Could it stop cruelty at the last stages of an animal’s life?

The Australian meat industry is facing a growing global movement towards installing cameras in abattoirs.

CCTV – or closed circuit television – is common in America and is now being demanded by supermarkets in the UK.

In Australia, cases of animal cruelty are putting further pressure on the industry to make itself open to scrutiny.

“If it’s happening in this abattoir, we can’t be sure it’s not happening elsewhere,” says Glenys Oojes of Animals Australia about the LE Giles abattoir in Gipplsland, Victoria.

Prime Safe Victoria shut down the abattoir in November.

In NSW, the Food Safe Authority shutdown the Hawkesbury Valley Abattoir after viewing footage of animal mistreatment, taken by a hidden camera.

CCTV in the US abattoirs

So why is the Australian industry holding out against CCTV in abattoirs, when the United States has already moved down that path?

“We believe at least 50 per cent of all the north American beef is currently being supported by video services and animal welfare,” says Mark Moshier at Arrowsight.

Arrowsight is the third party which monitors the cameras in America’s largest abattoirs run by Cargill and JBS.

As for expense: the leading abattoirs in Australia have revenue of over a billion dollars a year, while the running costs of CCTV look small at $US48,000 a year.

He says it’s objective reporting.

“We (Arrowsight) provide a 24/7 recording and ongoing, not 24/7 sampling, but multiple sampling.

“Near term feedback, daily dashboard reports, in-depth data base, throughout the week, month, the year… It drives continuous training and coaching.

“And its a very non-prejudicial audit; if a supervisor walks up to a worker and the worker sees them there, the performance is one-way.

“We go in and do a lot of our audits when the supervisor is not present.”

Mark Moshier says the cameras are not just to collect evidence and wield the stick – but also dangle the carrot. Where a team of abattoir workers has done well, their company might reward them with a pizza party, for example!

Over 30 million cattle are slaughtered in the United States in a year. Now the last hours of half of those cattle are watched by video surveillance, not by the company, but by an independent auditor.

Industry split in Australia

Australia’s largest meat processor – JBS Australia, is resisting pressure.

JBS says its meat works have the highest animal welfare standards, because under its strict export licence it has good supervision by vets and AQIS quarantine officers.

But the industry is split, because JBS leading competitor Teys Cargill conglomerate in Australia does use video cameras, installed only in the last few months.

“We’re responsible for around 18 per cent of Australia’s cattle slaughter,” Teys Australia’s corporate director Tom McGuire.

“What made you decide to put cameras in to monitor animal welfare?

“Increasingly consumer concern and animal welfare generally.

“The cameras aren’t an animal welfare solution, they just add to already good systems.”

Opening abattoirs up to the public

Dr Temple Grandin has made humane treatment of cattle, her life’s work. She consults to Arrowsight in the US and has helped design over half of all the cattle abattoirs in North America. She says cameras have stopped false reporting by supervisors.

The cameras are at each staging point for the cattle.

“At the truck unloading, at each dock, and over the single file race, over the crowd area, so you can watch the stunning, and insensibility, so you can make sure they’re unconscious, Dr Grandin says.

“It’s made a big difference, it’s stopped the use of electric goads.

“I’m a big fan of putting in these video systems, but they’ve got to be monitored by auditors outside the plant over the internet. Because internally, the novelty wears off. I know plants with cameras in them for over 20 years, and they never looked at them.”

Dr Temple Grandin believes one day the public should be able to see what goes on in abattoirs.

“I’m a big proponent of putting in these cameras, because I’m sick and tired of going and visiting a plant.”

Global moves to install cameras

In the UK it’s the supermarkets that have begun to pressure abattoirs to install cameras…