Why undercover videos aren’t the answer

They wear two faces, two hats, one hidden video camera and have one goal: to put all farming operations that produce meat, milk and eggs out of business. Undercover animal rights activists gain employment on farms across the United States and Canada under false pretenses to help animal rights groups produce undercover video campaigns.

Undercover video map
Undercover video map

Undercover videos

In the past two weeks I’ve watched more than 90 undercover videos from start to finish and researched past news coverage about each video, how the company responded and what actions were taken after the video surfaced. Sure I’ve seen undercover videos before, but this was the first time I actually sat down and not only watched, but analyzed about six hours worth of footage and media content.

Watching the edited videos filled with haunting background music was frustrating more often than not, but I’m glad I had the patience to analyze each video because I was able to find exactly what I was hoping for: reasons why these videos are not the answer to addressing concerns of alleged animal abuse in animal agriculture.

Before I dive into some common trends, let me first say that when actual animal mishandling or abuse occurs, the animal agriculture industry does not condone it or try to hide it. Farmers, ranchers and industry leaders are dedicated to providing the best animal care possible, but activist groups are not concerned about animal welfare and are hindering the ability of the animal agriculture industry to strive for continuous improvement.

Common trends 

As I was going through footage and reading what the activist groups claimed to have happened, I couldn’t help but notice common trends start to emerge within each video – all of which supported why activist groups aren’t concerned with stopping alleged abuse.

Here are just a few (I could write a book on this, but I’ll spare you the time):

1. Out of context

Dehorning cattle

The average length of an undercover video is about 3-4 minutes by design. Activist groups rely on the viewers’ lack of familiarity about animal agriculture to convince and mislead them into thinking that what they are viewing is without a doubt animal abuse when they could very well be watching a procedure that is for the long-term welfare benefit of the animal, approved and supported by science and for the safety of employees that work with the animal.

One example of something being taken out of context would be dehorning. This procedure may not be easy to watch for someone unfamiliar with raising cattle, but imagine how much pain another cow or an employee would be in if they had their side cut into by a sharp set of horns. People have even died from these types of injuries. Naturally polled cattle (cattle that are born without horns) are growing in popularity, but a transition to an entirely polled population wouldn’t be possible overnight. As long as there are cattle being born with horns, dehorning will be a necessary practice for everyone’s safety.

So remember… don’t believe everything you see and know that these videos only show what the animal rights groups want you to see.

2. Staged scenes

Undercover activists are paid up to $800 per week to capture footage of what they deem as inhumane. So what if they don’t find anything worth capturing? What if nothing they see is worth splicing together for an undercover video? We’ve heard that activists only get paid if they capture footage the animal rights groups can use, and this could very well explain why some activists are known to stage scenes and either encourage other employees or partake in abuse themselves.

Mercy for Animals ad
Mercy for Animals ad

One video taken at a poultry processing facility showed chickens in a room of the facility where they should have never been and was later determined that that the activist had access to the facility at night and staged the chickens and put them in danger just to shoot a video.

In another video at a dairy farm, the activist made sure cows were led through deep manure when the cows had no reason to be walking in that area. It was later found that this scene was staged and that if the cows were living in the conditions that the activist group had claimed, then they would be covered from head to tail in manure, not just their legs.

So if I am aware that undercover activists are staging scenes and even encouraging employees to break animal welfare protocols, then the animal rights groups must be aware since they supposedly expect an update from the activist each day. This begs the question that if they are aware then are they actually encouraging it too? Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are aware, but aren’t encouraging the activist to go to any measures possible to obtain footage of alleged abuse, then what are they doing to stop activists from encouraging or even being a part of what they claim they are trying to put an end to? From what I can see, nothing, because it continues to happen and a handful of activists have been charged as a result of their actions.

3. Refuse to cooperate with farm owners and law enforcement

Farm owners and law enforcement have requested to view the full, unedited video footage that the undercover activist obtained while working on the farm for the purpose of getting the entire story and finding out what exactly (if anything) went wrong and how to fix the situation so it doesn’t happen in the future. If activist groups were concerned about helping animals they would be willing to help management and law enforcement to take corrective action.

In all cases, the undercover activists leave employment before the video footage is released and therefore not available to answer questions regarding their concerns and what they allegedly witnessed because they are already undercover on another farm working on producing another video. If they are concerned about animal welfare, wouldn’t you think they would stick around and help in any way they possibly can?

4. Playing the innocent bystander

On many farming operations employers require their staff to sign an agreement stating that they will report any concerns about animal welfare immediately. Do the undercover activists sign this agreement? Yes. Do they adhere to the agreement and report concerns of abuse immediately? No, they just stand there and videotape. If I was witnessing something that I truly felt needed to be stopped, I wouldn’t be able to just stand there and watch from an arms-length distance. Would you?

Animal rights supporters often fire back with the argument that “we need to get as much evidence as possible” when asked why they wait to report concerns of abuse. Not only are undercover activists breaking protocols if they did sign an agreement, but all this so-called “evidence” that they are getting is not doing anyone any good. It is only prolonging this alleged abuse that they deem as their top priority. If you actually are witnessing true animal abuse it doesn’t matter if you have one instance or three weeks worth of footage.

5. Taking forever to release the video

I think I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – this day in age it does not take more than a day to put video footage online. One activist group claims undercover “investigations” are the “livelihood” of their organization, so they should be pros by now and be able to edit together their catchy three-minute videos in a few hours, right? But they wait for days, weeks, months and sometimes even up to a full year to release video footage! A year!

Honestly, this is the most glaring flaw of the animal rights groups in my opinion because it screams hypocrisy. The fact that they wait so long to release and report concerns of abuse just proves that they are more concerned about fundraising and perfectly timing video releases within the media cycle and their own PR campaigns than stopping the alleged abuse.

What it means for farm owners

For farm owners, the concern has shifted from if they will run into an undercover activist to when will they encounter an undercover activist which creates distrust between employees and supervisors. Now owners have to worry about hiring people that are there for the wrong reasons instead of focusing their attention on how to improve their operation and take care of their livestock. Concerns of abuse need to be reported immediately so management can know about the situation and resolve it as soon as possible. Supervisors can’t be everywhere at all times and they can’t fix what they don’t know about, so they rely on their employees do their job and to report their concerns immediately, not five months down the road after their footage is made into a video or commercial.

What can you do?

Ask yourself: if you were concerned about the welfare of animals, would you help and report your concerns immediately or just stand there and do nothing for the sake of a campaign?

If you answered the former, then don’t let the activist groups mislead you into thinking they are here to improve animal welfare. I encourage you to speak up and share why you don’t support undercover video campaigns by posting your thoughts with the hashtag #ReportNotRecord, started by Dairy Farmers of America in response to an undercover video targeting one of its member farms.

31 thoughts on “Why undercover videos aren’t the answer

  1. First of all, if there was not so much rampant animal abuse in the industry, there wouldn’t be any need for undercover video to be shot. Since you are all not able to effectively police yourselves, how is the abuse ever going to be known?

    Secondly, it’s been proven many times over that going straight to the authorities is not always the best course of action due to the very deep rooted good ol’ boy network. (Don’t even try to deny its existence, everyone knows its there)

    Rather than knocking down the people trying to provide evidence of abuse, why not come up with a system in which the Ag industry makes it clear that abuse of any kind won’t be tolerated? Stop abusing and the animal welfare people won’t have any reason to video. It’s not rocket science.

    • Hi Jennifer! Thank you for your comment. The animal rights groups who are producing the undercover videos are not “animal welfare people” by any means. Their goal is not to improve animal welfare on farms. As I mentioned in the blog post, if these groups were truly concerned about the welfare of animals they would report their concerns immediately and help to resolve any issues. Instead they wait months before reporting any concerns which means if they really feel like an animal is being abused, they knowingly let the alleged abuse continue until a video is ready to be released.

      Farms do have policies and programs in place that make it clear that animal abuse is not tolerated. The National Dairy FARM Program outlines correct animal care handling techniques and specifically states “willful mistreatment of cattle is unacceptable. The FARM Program does not tolerate abusive behavior.” Employees are required to sign a code of ethics form and if employees break animal care polices they are either fired or retrained depending on the specific case. Another example is the Beef Quality Assurance Program which specifically states “abuse of cattle is not acceptable under any circumstances.” The pork industry has a quality assurance program that is dedicated to helping producers improve animal well-being.

      Here are links to each animal care resource I’ve referenced above:


      • The questions posed in the column and in the comments are logical questions. But they are all asked assuming that the goal should be exposing or even stopping abuse of non humans. That is not the point of activist undercover videos. If instead you ask, “how could people be convinced to stop using animal products?”

        Start with uses that seem frivolous to average Americans; fur, research, and milk. Now, you have answers to every question.

        The truth of the moment doesn’t matter. The activists are concerned with billions of animals used by humans every day. The temporary suffering of one or ten more to get the footage necessary to shut down one more animal user is more important than the details of what happened.

        The original research exposes and circus videos were faked. The original fur movies were staged and film makers were punished in court for the frauds but no one hears about the later court appeals. It doesn’t matter if the movies are fake if European markets close to fur imports, circus animals are banned and the AWA is expanded from research to impact all breeders of dogs so that the pet sources are limited to rescues (who must be neutered) which will eventually end the keeping of pet dogs. Sounds extreme and unbelievable, right? Asking why terrorists kill people misses the point of what terrorists are.
        Start with uses that seem frivolous to average Americans; fur, research, and milk. Now, you have answers to every question.

        The truth of the moment doesn’t matter. The activists are concerned with billions of animals used by humans every day. The temporary suffering of one or ten more to get the footage necessary to shut down one more animal user is more important than the details of what happened.

        The original research exposes and circus videos were faked. The original fur movies were staged and film makers were punished in court for the frauds but no one hears about the later court appeals. It doesn’t matter if the movies are fake if European markets close to fur imports, circus animals are banned and the AWA is expanded from research to impact all breeders of dogs so that the pet sources are limited to rescues (who must be neutered) which will eventually end the keeping of pet dogs. Sounds extreme and unbelievable, right? Asking why terrorists kill people misses the point of what terrorists are.

    • It is the goal of radical animal rights groups to end all animal farming and they will lie, cheat and steal to fill their agenda.

  2. Thank You. We are a small dairy farm but more and more a person has to think about their actions and words so that the general public does not get the wrong picture. Common and approved practices can often be construed in ways that are totally out of context. Thank you for explaining this and going public with it.

  3. I am not a farmer, but I love animals, and yet what these ‘activists’ are doing are benefiting animals. If you witness abuse of a child or an elderly/handicapped person, you are required by Law to report that abuse. Why is that not also true of these ‘activists’

    Imagine if someone was filming your interactions with your children for months and then they pulled a few minutes of it out. I bet that a video could be made that would make parents look like abusers.

    • Hi Cairenn! Thank you for the comment! I’m not sure what you’re meaning to say though, would you mind clarifying?

      • I think what she meat to say is what I also think if you see it report it NOW If you see a child being beaten or abused would you wait to report it so you could “gather more evidence” you would be breaking the law if you did that .. should be the same for animals..

    • Maybe it should be a law tha as soon as you see an animal abused you should report it or be charged yourself .
      But as far as children or even the elderly are concerned if you just speak up it doesnt necessarily mean the child will be protected because now it is your word against the parents . I have seen also online horrible abuse footage going around of a mother hitting her baby for no reason with a hair brush . It was terrible to watch as I sat there crying hoping to see a clue in the footage so I can take action for the child as millions of others did too Im sure . But with some research it turned out that the woman taking the undercover footage did it so she would have a solid case against the mother that she had seen abuse her child before . And then there are all the nanny-cams that have caught so called nice nannies beating the babies after the parents leave . Without footage it is hard to have a solid case against the abuser . It is just your word against theirs . It would be super hard to take footage if you are a compassionate person as it is also hard to watch , but if it wasnt for all these undercover videos these abusers of animals , children or the elderly would still likely be in these positions abusing so I am sooo grateful to the brave people willing to take this footage and get these abusers charged !

  4. People are VERY upset about how animals are being treated on large factory farms . More and more these huge factory operations are pushing out the small family farms . When you have hundreds and even thousands of animals in cramped quarters for the most profit , of course these dear animals are going to become looked at as though they are commodities . When an “individual” cow may not do exactly what is needed – for example at milking time when you have so many cows , the individual animal’s needs and feelings can not be considered and so when this poor animal shows resistance for whatever reason , this could become frustrating for a farm worker who has a schedule to keep and many animals to deal with . When an individual cow’s needs can not be considered , then that farm is too big and that is not what profit driven huge factory farms want to hear ! This situation of too many animals in inappropriate living conditions without consideration for the animals happiness and usually low paid workers who must keep to the schedule is a perfect storm scenario for abuse to occur . I believe that since you are caring for living beings you should have cameras installed and watching all of the time ! And tell me what do you think is more likely 1) that more and more people are waking up and saying to themselves ” I know how I can get rich , I will stage an organization that pretends to care about animals and then we can send undercover spies into perfectly good farms and stage horrific abuse just to smear these respectable operations and then bleeding heart animal lovers will donate tons of money to us OR 2) The huge Agri-Business ” farms” of today are writing articles like this to do some damage control because they know their time of huge profits and cruel abuse will soon be coming to an end because compassionate people won’t stand for this anymore now that we see what is being done to beautiful gentle animals in our name !

    Let us all work together for a world where we have compassion 4 ALL . Every animal has a right to a happy life , fresh air , sunshine and room to graze , the right to have a family and raise their own young , the right to freedom from pain or any discomfort and healthy food and water and compassionate treatment at all times AND a quick , humane death .

    • Your comment makes a lot of assumptions: that big is bad, that big is cramped, that animals are treated as commodities, that individual animals’ needs and feelings “can not be considered,” that living conditions are inappropriate, that workers “must keep to the schedule,” that there are huge profits to be made for cruel abuse, and more.

      I suggest that you read Temple Grandin’s writings saying “big is not bad; bad management is bad.” The worst conditions I’ve seen for animals are not on professional farms, they are on hobby farms and nonfarms. Watch “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” and you’ll see that the biggest problems the veterinarian treats are generally in animals owned by average nonfarmers who don’t know how to feed, house, care for, or medicate their animals properly.

      I’m curious, what are you calling “huge Agri-Business ‘farms’ of today”? Virtually all farms are family farms.

      • Well Anita , I’d be happy with a farm that aloud their animals outside in a lovely green pasture everyday when the weather is nice ( outdoor free standing shelters for rain ) with lots of room to run and move and graze and to exhibit natural cow culture with famil8es and bonds . And in the cold weather comfortable indoor facilities with bedding to lay down comfortably and not full of poop . No matter what though , I dont believe that any mother should have her babies taken away so that another species (us ) can take her milk that was intended for her babies . It is just wrong .

    • “the right to have a family and raise their own young” .. really > so you do not believe in castration of any animal including dogs and cats? wow and the”right to a happy life” you mean like the zebra that is eaten by a lion? not very happy when that happened .. life is not all unicorns and lollipops

    • I’m not a farmer, but when I was young we lived next to one. I have never believed any information that comes out of animal rights groups. They have made it clear that they do not eat or use animal products so what do they know about raising animals? Nothing, they just want to destroy it. They have no problems lying about the realities of farming to get people to turn to their “vegan” lifestyle and that’s so wrong! If I have a question about why something is done I will ask a farmer because they are the ones with actual animal experience. And all this nonsense about “factory” farms, just more animal rights lies. I just read a report in my state that over 90% of the farms were family owned. Yet animal rights groups say most are “factory”, so they have once again proven themselves to be liars. I’m so glad the Ag community is speaking out and putting up educational articles like this one. I enjoy meat and dairy and using animal products, and pets, and zoos, and Seaworld, etc I will never listen to the lies from animal rightists nor will I stop eating meat or dairy.

  5. The biggest thing that I feel is the reason these animal right groups have gained so much “false” ground, is that the AG industry ignored and dismissed them and we ALL assumed common sense would prevail among the USA populations. Well, when years and years of lies is all society hears, never a rebuttal of the truth, they tend to start believing it. Think of “water boy” mama says “alligators are grumpy because they don’t have a tooth brush”. This man only heard this info therefore believed it until he was shown other wise. Articles like this are gravely needed, don’t know if cameras up 24/7 would help ease their mind, but we are going to have to figure something out before we are all out. Great article,

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  7. Thank you for this information, The article I saw earlier today had me wondering about the production of it, since most people do not treat animals in that manner.

  8. This is a great article! I work for The Farmer’s Exchange, a farm newspaper covering parts of Indiana and Michigan. We would like to have permission to publish this in our paper. We would give you credit as well.

    • Hi, Caitlin – sure you can. You can credit Casey Kinler, Animal Ag Alliance Communications Manager, as the author. Thanks!

  9. How can you say that dehorning the cows is justified by saying “it may be extremely painful for the cows but it would be WORSE for a worker to be stabbed by their horns” and that the animals could injure each other since they are kept in such small spaces? If you have to remove parts of their body because they can’t even move without hurting each other shouldn’t that be an indicator of a larger problem? Also, how can an industry that profits solely from the exploitation and use of animals as “products” truly care about the animals when the only reason they physically care for them is because their bodies make them money?

    • Even out on the range cattle will use their horns against other cattle if they feel the need. Any preserved danger will cause an attack. Why do you think they have horns? It is easier to disbud as calves than to remove horns as adults. Cattle can break horns which caused pain and extreme bleeding if accidently damaged.

  10. This is the problem with our “video age”. Short clips full of misinformation, because the average person is so inundated with video all day, every day that their attention span is limited. Big Bang – No real information.

  11. We should be aware that the producers of these videos are probably not all that concerned about animal welfare as about stopping all use of animal products, from eggs, milk, meat to leather and any other use. Animals need to be treated humanely, no disagreement there, but we also have to remember that they are useful for food and other things and as such need to be managed and controlled. In a small herd, like the small farm I grew up on, does not need dehorning, but larger herds probably do as a matter of safety for both the animal and the human caretakers. Some people give animal human characteristics and think they are more important in the scheme of things and this simply is not true.

  12. Farmers/Auctions/etc etc… just make this simple. The way to combat this is with livestreams, video, and audio of the event being held. If there is nothing to hide, cover up, left unseen, then run a livestream for the public, customer, whomever wants to watch. This would justify the purpose of the event and the auctions done live. Simple answer.

  13. You cannot feed the world or this country by having backyard ground animals. First off, the EPA isn’t going to allow it. Turkeys can no longer have yards outside their houses because the EPA thinks their poop might get into the local ditch. Trying putting hundreds of hogs outside and see how long it takes the EPA to come shut you down. Yes, a family can grow a FEW animals outside, but not enough to feed the world. Maybe the EPA and Animal rights need to work together for a solution before lying to the public about factory farms. Maybe if these farms could find better (legal) employees which is impossible because people don’t have to work anymore because of Government handouts. Too many issues to even address here.

  14. Lie about factory farms ? Animals were never meant to live in factories where they never see the light of day or feel the breeze on their backs or smell fressh air or run in a field . The american dietetic association says that eating a whole foods plant based vegan diet meets all of our nutritional needs so we can sustain ourselves very healthfully on plants . You are right that if we get rid of the hells that are factory farms the number of animals available for consumption would decrease greatly if they were raised on smaller more humane farms . So most people will need to become vegan and those who still want to eat meat will consider it a treat maybe once a week . This will be good news fir the animaks who now suffer terrribly in factory farms , good news for the environment because methane from cows produces about half the greenhouse gases causing global warming and good because all the massive mounds of poop that factory farms produce seep into water ways and cause dead zones , pollute the water . Good because with much fewer animals raised they can go back to a natural pasture to eat and the Amazonian Rainforest wont have to be cut diown more and more hectares everyday to grow animal feed .
    Meat at breakfast , lunch and dinner for the western world needs to stop NOW so our children can have a future on this earth .
    There is no question that this excessive meat eating and polluting lifestyle must change and that means everyone of us will need to change . Eating a vegan plantbased diet has reversed heart disease and some diabetes through diet alone . It is healthy and good for the planet and the animaks will be happier outside enjoying life the way they were intended to . It is time !

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