CCTV: genuine welfare benefits

James Aufenast, in 'Death Duties' (MTJ June 25), seeks to make sense of the fall-out resulting from Animal Aid's ongoing undercover investigation of UK red meat slaughterhouses. We don't expect backslaps and hats in the air from Meat Trades Journal, but it is important, not least for the industry itself, that the salient facts are put before readers.

The article leaves the impression that we have filmed in perhaps 100 abattoirs, but released footage from just a handful, because the other establishments were blameless. Wrong. We have filmed in a total of seven red meat slaughterhouses and released footage from all of them. Each of these establishments was randomly selected for covert filming we had no prior knowledge or tip-offs about untoward activity. Despite this, in six out of the seven, we found strong evidence of cruelty, bad practice, incompetence and in one instance sadistic violence. In this regard, your article talked in terms of our 'allegations', suggesting that we were out on a limb. In fact, after careful examination of our evidence by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), nine men from five of the slaughterhouses have been either suspended or have had their slaughter licences permanently revoked. Legal action has been taken or is under way against all nine and also against four of the slaughterhouse operators. Additionally, our footage is being used by Bristol University to help train abattoir vets and Soil Association inspectors.

Given the widespread nature of the abuses we have found, it cannot be said that welfare monitoring in abattoirs is adequate or that abuses are not commonplace.

We believe the introduction of CCTV in all stunning and killing areas would be a significant step towards reducing such abuses. This view is supported by Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA. A Soil Association spokesman is quoted in Aufenast's article as saying that abattoirs would need to employ a special person merely to view all of the footage. Firstly, we believe that the footage must be accessible to outside agencies (FSA headquarters, supermarkets, animal protection groups etc). Secondly, it is unnecessary to view every second of film. Footage should be available for viewing on an unannounced, randomly accessed basis.

Animal welfare is increasingly important to consumers, which means it has an increasing priority for retailers. CCTV is capable of delivering genuine welfare benefits. The abattoir sector should, thus, embrace rather than resist the introduction of cameras.

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