SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — He was young, anywhere from 18 to 30. He
had a newly-acquired Iowa driver’s license.
He drove a beat-up vehicle that had seen better days. He
lived in a motel in town.
He seemed right for the job. So they hired him.
Three months later, the staff and management at Rose Acre
Farms, headquartered in Seymour, Ind., but with farms in six states, including
Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, learned why the young man, whose documents named
him as James Carlson, was looking for a job.
He also was a volunteer with the Humane Society of the
United States, looking for an opportunity to gain access to the nation’s largest
shell egg producer’s farm operations.
In this case, he did, filming inside a Rose Acre facility in
Winterset, Iowa, as well as another Iowa egg farm not owned by Rose Acre Farms.
The video — a few minutes-long clip edited, according to Joe
Miller, general counsel for Rose Acre Farms, from some six hours of tape shot at
two separate Iowa egg facilities — was released in April 2010, months after
Carlson worked at the Winterset farm. He worked there a total of 13 days in
Miller gave a presentation on the lessons learned from the
Rose Acre undercover video at the 2013 Illinois Livestock Symposium, sponsored
by the Illinois Soybean Association.
“We went back and went to the human resources person for the
farm and asked didn’t any of this start raising red flags to you? They just had
never thought of it before. They’d never been the victim of an undercover
video,” he said.
Miller said that the farm took immediate action, attending
the Des Moines news conference when the undercover video, which Carlson —
believed to be his actual name, although Miller stressed that activists often
use aliases — filmed with a button camera, was released.
“We found out about the news conference when they announced
it. We kind of guessed it had to do with us, so we prepared to be there,” said
Miller, who noted that no representatives from Rose Acres or agriculture —
including the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture — were allowed into the press
“As soon as the news conference was over — we have three
different farms in Iowa, and they’re all about 50 miles apart. We pulled the
news media together and said, ‘We’ll take you out to any of the farms you want.
You tell us the building, we’ll take you into it,’” Miller said.
One local TV station took Rose Acres up on the offer.
“We took them out to the farm, took them through the
building, they filmed it and that night on the news, they reported they couldn’t
find a single violation that HSUS claimed,” Miller said. “That helped immensely
with customer relations and helped defuse the entire situation and helped defuse
what HSUS was claiming.”
Miller presented a list of tips and hints to help livestock
operations both avoid being the subjects of undercover videos and some tips for
how to handle that situation if it does happen.
“One of the first things we recommend is be open about your
operation. Be ready with your operation to take the media out there and show
them, ‘Look, here’s what goes on. What they are claiming is baloney,’” he said.
“Hopefully it’s baloney. If it’s not, you’ve got problems.”
Miller also suggested that livestock farmers might do their
own undercover videos of their own operations to make sure that policies and
procedures that are put in place actually are being observed.
“Do your own undercover investigations. Make sure your
practices are being followed. Just because you put policies in place doesn’t
mean they are actually occurring. Go back and do your own investigation
undercover to see — are your employees following your rules?” he said.
Miller also emphasized that human resources staff or the
person in charge of hiring at livestock farms does their homework on every
prospective and new hire.
“Under his employment history, he gave three jobs. On
checking those later, and this is one of the things we changed in our process —
we did this later, we should have done it earlier — none of those three jobs
existed. That should be one of your first clues is if they give bogus job
information,” said Miller, who said that not doing a thorough background check
cost the company.
“The excuse used was that trying to keep track of that many
and do background checks on that many is a lot of work. Well, this is the result
of not doing that work.”
Miller pointed out some behaviors that might be red flags:
* An employee starts asking questions about security matters
or time schedules;
* An employee starts volunteering for jobs before normal
business hours, arrives early or leaves late without any job-related requirement
to do that;
* An employee volunteers for less-desirable jobs that will
bring them into contact with animals;
* An employee seeks more contact with upper management;
* An employee seeks jobs or employment below their job or
* Previous work or previous jobs the employee held is out of
character with the job being sought;
* The prospective employee offers to work without pay to get
experience in the field; and
* The employee either has an out-of-state driver’s license
or a newly-acquired in-state driver’s license.
“These are all behaviors that, if you start seeing these
things, they should be red flags,” Miller said.
He also said that farms can think about instituting video
recording policies for employees, including having workers leave smartphones and
cell phones in lockers or in a secure place away from the work area.
Miller noted that audio and video recording equipment is
getting more sophisticated and that those filming undercover videos usually use
specialized, hard-to-detect cameras.
“The guy that did our videotape had a camera. It was a
button camera. It was hard to detect. Every employee we asked said they never
saw any video equipment on this guy,” he said.
Miller noted that more and more states are instituting laws
at the state level to make videotaping or photography of livestock without prior
permission of the farm owner illegal.
Six states — Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota
and Utah — have laws in place.
Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Wyoming
currently have that legislation under consideration.
Miller recently testified before the Indiana state
Legislature about the Rose Acre Farms video experience and pointed out that the
majority of the videos posted online have been carefully edited.
“I told the legislators I could take three hours of video of
anybody, I don’t care how it is, I could take three hours of video of anybody,
turn that into three minutes and make you look bad. It’s that simple,” he said.