This move, prompted by Animal Aid placing “fly-on-the-wall” cameras in slaughterhouses, has apparently “triggered a rethink on abattoirs.” The resulting footage was described as “sickening” by the head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which regulates British abattoirs. However, it is clear that this "rethink" is all about one business priority, getting consumers of animal products to belief that “animals
are not being cruelly treated.”
The FSA’s chief executive, Tim Smith, seems to have acknowledged that the “problems” (i.e., rights violations) revealed by the films did not appear to be isolated incidents. However, it is fairly clear what the game is when Smith says that, “consumers and supermarkets
should help force the entire meat industry to follow best practice.” As well as ideologically minimising the systematic killing of hundreds of millions of sentient beings, it is being suggested that there are good and acceptable ways of snuffing out these lives, if only certain “standards” are met and maintained. Naturally, this would involve the “retraining for staff with responsibility for handling animals.”
Since this entire story seems all about animal welfare, “best practice,” and nothing at all about the rights of those being killed, supermarket spokespersons have trotted out the usual blandishments about their number one commitment to welfare. For example, one “director of corporate affairs” of a supermarket chain that operates its own slaughterhouses told journalists that, “High animal welfare
is paramount to all we do, from working with farmers to the point of slaughter,” adding, “That is what our customers expect.”
Another supermarket chain said
As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare, we have asked our meat suppliers to the UK to install CCTV in their processing facilities.
Another business, which “last year suspended its use of an abattoir featured in the Animal Aid campaign until improvements were made,” said, “We will be asking our remaining suppliers of fresh and frozen meat to implement CCTV in their abattoirs by the end of 2011, while another has instructed its suppliers to install CCTV
where live animals are handled, including unloading and rest areas up to and including the point of kill.
Animal Aid, which regards itself as the oldest animal rights organisation in Britain, also got in on the animal welfare-oriented love-in, with director Andrew Tyler declaring that, “Supermarkets are seeing which way their bread is buttered. Their customers want it.”
As I have suggested before
, there are major monitoring issues in the messy business of regulating animal use. For example, there have been several exposes of the RSPCA’s much trumpeted “Freedom Foods” scheme (see Hillside Animal Sanctuary
), not least because the organisation admit that they cannot adequately inspect the places that have signed up to meeting their higher welfare standards.
In this case, the various supermarket chains have “promised that CCTV images will be independently monitored.” One wonders who will do such monitoring – if
it will be done at all – some group of speciesists, no doubt, like those from the Home Office who are supposed to monitor vivisection laboratories. I doubt that a team of Animal Aid employees will be seconded to do the job.
The Co-op supermarket chain stated, for its part, that
The CCTV equipment installed should be capable of recording legible, time- and date-stamped images, and storing these images for a period of not less than six months.
What difference any of that will make is unknown – but we know it will not end systematic animal rights violations because that it not the aim from the start.
The trade union, Unison, said that it did not think the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses would tackle the issues it sees as the main problems in the way abattoirs operate, such as the speed of the kill lines, which “makes thorough inspections impossible.” As a trade union, they are focused on the issue of human worker injury – nonhuman animal injury is rather a given in a plant designed to kill and then dismember nonhuman animals. However, line speeds have always been an issue in abattoirs, especially when workers are paid in accordance to the numbers of nonhuman animals they kill in a shift (see Gail Eisnitz’s book, Slaughterhouse,
for more on this). This means that the monitoring of the CCTV footage will need to be vigilant - and constant - if failures to meet “best practices” are not to be missed.
You have faith that these cameras are going to improve matters for those poor individuals being executed at high speed, don't you?
 Former laboratory technician, Angela Walder, who later worked as scientific adviser to the BUAV, claimed that inspectors would often refuse to enter areas where the “test models” where kept because they did not want to get animal hairs on their suits.