Video Surveillance :: Transparency and Accountability

By Christopher R. Raines

Last week I kept track of how many times I was “videotaped” in one day. The result: 10 times! (Those which I “knew” of: Entering and exiting two large retail stores, filling up my car, entering and exiting the bank, at a parking deck, going back into and out of the store because I’d forgotten something earlier . . . ) Tack on a few more instances for traffic and other cameras you may not realize are there, and that adds up to a lot of time you’re on candid camera!

A small camera can guard against big problems

A small camera can guard against big problems

Yet, CCTV is not exclusively some sort of Big Brother privacy invader way to keep the masses in line. CCTV can also be used in agricultural enterprises to monitor events and items related to humane animal handling, food safety, and biosecurity. It has been testified before congress that in-house (not “undercover” or “covert”) video monitoring of animal handling and slaughter at meat packing plants would help prevent severely disturbing instances such as those that occurred at Hallmark-Westland Packing in early 2008. Such monitoring would allow for vastly enhanced transparency of the company and accountability of its employees in the unlikely event something troublesome should occur. It would also be an asset, bolstering food defense initiatives.

Some small meat packing plant operators in Pennsylvania incorporated CCTV surveillance as part of their plant operations. Cunningham Meats in Indiana, Pennsylvania, have small cameras located throughout their facility, monitoring places such as the kill floor, shipping dock, processing rooms, retail sales room, and the retail sales cash register. In that system, footage is visible on a monitor up in “boss’ office” and is stored for about 3 months. If there is any problem observed in realtime, or reported later, now the tools are in place to enhance transparency and accountability. It is certainly a pro-active, “we’ve nothing to hide” approach to what is an all-too-commonly misunderstood business – a slaughterhouse. According to Dr. Temple Grandin in a New York Times feature (20 January 2009), slaughterhouses should have glass walls, that anyone should be able to see what’s happening. Of course, keeping in mind the food safety, biosecurity, and other liability considerations, total visibility may not be possible. Yet the videos may be the next best thing.

The plants operations can be monitored simultaneously from one location

The plant's operations can be monitored simultaneously from one location

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6 thoughts on “Video Surveillance :: Transparency and Accountability

  1. if not glass walls, then what about live video on the internet? it would take some real bravery to do that, but would be an amazing way to proclaim confidence in the system.

  2. In my view, that would be a very risky proposition, not because something “bad” would actually happen. Rather, I’d bet that some organizations would pay someone to monitor it 24/7, wait for something that can be misconstrued as “bad” (or something they genuinely think is bad per their own non-understanding), and blast that all over the web as some “shocking truth” that happens all the time …

  3. We do this also at our sm USDA slaughter/processing facility. It’s a great tool and adds a whole new level of transparency !

    It also makes our Food Security Plan simpler 🙂

    • I think that if it’s an extra control step to help ensure best animal handling or best safe food handling practices, then yes. …provided it’s not a violation of someone’s privacy.

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