Pig farming: Effectively managing a crisis
2012 World Pork Expo seminar covers how to protect your farm, pigs and reputation when an undercover video is released.
Undercover videos being shot on pig farms are being released about every five weeks, and pork farmers need to have a crisis action plan in place — because it can happen to you. At the 2012 World Pork Expo, the “Doing what’s right vs. looking for the camera” seminar covered what pig farmers need to do if confronted with an undercover video.
Lynn Becker, a Minnesota pig producer, was taken by surprise 3-and-a-half years ago when, after purchasing a pig operation, he was informed a PETA undercover video would be released.
“We had just taken ownership of the farm 28 days before the video was released,” says Becker. “The majority of the filming was done before our ownership and new management. The three-minute video showed intolerable conditions, and we have to make sure this doesn’t happen in our pig operation on a daily basis.”
Within 24 hours Becker had 1,000 emails and more were coming. His pig farm was worldwide news and had quite an impact on the pig industry. “I still get emails today; the video was aimed at Hormel because we were supplying pigs for them. If you Google my name there are almost 110,000 online and print articles with my name in it,” he says.
“Get your side of the story out first. Be vigilant, be prepared and operate like you are on camera,” says Becker. Make sure the positive barn culture is there all the time and investigate anything reported that is remotely perceived as animal abuse.”
Hiring the right people
Everyone on the farm has the ethical responsibility to protect the pigs within their care. “We recommend background checks and reference checks for all new employees,” says Sherrie Niekamp of the National Pork Board. “These can be a tip off if this potential employee is truly interested in working in the pig industry or if they are temporary and could result in a video.”
Niekamp recommends all pig operations have written job descriptions and a set of expectations. Interview questions are another way to test out real-work scenarios to see how the person would react to a specific situation. Those can be good queues to their beliefs, culture and attitude toward animals.
“Caring for animals on a day-to-day basis can be stressful if they are charged with tasks like humane euthanasia,” says Niekamp. “Define what is not acceptable and have a whistle-blower policy. This puts some responsibility on the caretakers that if they witness an event they need to report it and how to report it and who to go to. The other side of that is to investigate every incidence.”
Formally documenting all processes is a good way to show you have an established program, says Niekamp. Even if it’s on-the-job training, written standard operating procedures for daily tasks and annual reviews are positive ways to give employees feedback.
Have a crisis plan
If you are contacted by an animal rights group, you need to have a documented plan in place. “Who is in charge of the situation?” asks Cindy Cunningham of the National Pork Board (watch video of Cunningham at the presentation). “Is the contact legitimate? Who else needs to know? Who can help? But the most important thing is getting the facts straight -- write everything down.”
In all of the undercover videos, we’ve found that what gets the video off the front page is to take immediate corrective action, which shows the pig industry is dedicated to doing the right thing," says Cunningham. “The first line of defense is to do the right thing on your farm to keep you out of this situation. Have your alliances and reputations in order before you need them.”