Big Brother for Good
April 10, 2011 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I am putting together a proposal for my English class. It proposes that cameras should be required in meat processing plants all along the "dissemble" line, and broadcast "to the public somehow," (probably via web-feed or something) . Is there such a thing, in any law, in any jurisdiction (even outside of the U.S.)?

It would introduce a whole new level of transparency for all of the meat-processing industry. But I cannot seem to find a precedent for "filming/camera required by law" on any subject, in any context.
posted by Monkey0nCrack to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot even imagine there is the slightest chance that there is a law for this. The plants would close down.
posted by JayRwv at 6:43 PM on April 10, 2011

Some jurisdictions now require interrogations/confessions to be filmed, in the interest of avoiding issues with coerced/false confessions. They are not live streamed to the public, though.

In your scenario, I think there would be problems with the streaming, in particular; less so the actual filming.

It breaks down a litle like this: I believe meat processing is regulated at the federal level, so that would mean Congress would have to act (constitutionally) to pass a law that could be read to authorize the USDA to impose such a regulation. Then the USDA would have to interpret that law as authorizing filming, and then actually enact the law. From a practical standpoint, there'd be substantial industry pushback and the possibility of a lawsuit challenging either the statute or the regulation or both. I'd think the live streaming would attract much more pushback than the filming itself, possibly dealing with trade secret issues (can't speak to the merits of such claims).
posted by devinemissk at 6:44 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your issue here is "broadcast to the public". There is mandatory videotaping in a more security or safety orientated context in lots of industries, including but not limited to: Casinos and gambling, mining, medical etc.

However, broadcasting shit to the public is very expensive, and arguably rarely in the public interest in terms of cost/benefit. Regulators have much more economical ways of regulating, and public scrutiny can often be very problematic for regulators and industries - and not in the the sense that it makes cover ups harder (though, yes, it can do that). Public scrutiny is can be hysterical, uninformed, or misdirected. The public lacks the knowledge in many cases to exercise judgment in a mature fashion. For example, in your example, the benefit would be to the animal, not the public. But cows, pigs and chickens don't pay tax, nor buy meat; people do. So a public interest case is not really demonstrated there.

Also, the nature of such surveillance outside of public spaces is fairly strictly governed and controlled. It would be a legal battle in terms of privacy laws to institute something like this in many cases (this is why we don't have security cameras in toilets), and it would overturn much precedent to simply host the files publicly.

Moreover, there is cultural precedent at play, particularly in places like the United States, which has historically taken a dim view on both regulation and government intervention.

Laws and regulation are co amplex, and public involvement can hinder as much or more than it can help (not saying that's the case here).

More typically, if these things are available to the public at all, they will be archived and subject to Freedom of Information requests to ascertain availability and appropriateness of release. You will find more examples like that. Neither organisations nor governments wants the public involved in regulation.
posted by smoke at 6:45 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

In the United States, I am fairly sure, there is not.

Congress could do it. An agency probably could do it. I'm guessing that a state could not. Obvious reasons not to: (1) it would add expense and (2) it might be of limited value because of the immense amount of visual data (who could possibly watch it all?).

Filming is required by law in some criminal contexts -- some cop cars have video cameras, some custodial interrogations need to be filmed. As far as I know none of those require a live feed to the public, although the footage obvious has to be available for certain situations (lawsuits).
posted by J. Wilson at 7:32 PM on April 10, 2011

This story in the Guardian from a couple of months ago is in the ballpark, though it's a voluntary agreement to pipe the feed to an independent body, not the public at large.

Related earlier story raises prospect of government mandated CCTV cameras in abbatoirs, though presumably not for public broadcast.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:38 PM on April 10, 2011

Is there such a thing, in any law, in any jurisdiction

Sure - many government proceedings in the US are required to be broadcast to the public. See here for instance. But I think this is a big exception, because these sorts of meetings are already public, and the people present are, for the most part, public servants.

I think there would be serious privacy issues with what you propose. For instance, commercial airline pilots have their voices recorded by a cockpit voice recorder (sometimes referred to as a "black box.") But there are very strict rules about how that information can be used - though they are not always followed:
From an airline pilot's perspective, the cockpit voice recorder issue is probably the most sensitive. It has certainly been the most controversial. When CVRs were first installed, it was with the understanding that pilots would be sacrificing their rights to privacy to help advance air safety by accommodating a tool that was useful in accident investigation. The quid pro quo was that the recorded information be of a specific duration (30 minutes), be erasable by the flight crew on the ground, and be used only for its intended purpose, that is, accident investigation.

Thus there was a balance between a flight crew's individual right to privacy and the collective benefits for aviation safety. Over time certain of these constraints have become blurred, and the balance has tilted. Some of the newer CVRs - quite legal, and certainly more capable technologically - have no erase feature, and up to 2 hours of voice data is recorded. Abuses of CVR information, including inappropriate release of the recorded information, and inclusion in transcripts of non-pertinent conversation, have been viewed by many airline pilots as violating the original compact.
Your cameras would be on 24/7 and the data they broadcast would be subject to permanent capture. Think about life in your workplace (or if you've never held a job, in your school). Yes, you're probably serious most of the time. But would you want the entire world hearing and seeing every time you goof off, make an off-color joke, or just express thoughts you'd rather keep private? Probably not. So I think this is why we've never seen anything like this - because it would be so incredibly intrusive.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:44 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

For example, in your example, the benefit would be to the animal, not the public.

Oh, was I just totally missing the point? I thought the idea here was to protect workers from unsafe conditions. Or maybe, just maybe, to keep plants honest when it comes to things like cleanliness, additives, etc. Though it would never happen, it's at least conceivable you could make an argument for something along these lines.

But if the idea is simply to show people how unappealing meat processing is, or how allegedly cruel it is to animals (with some political goal of reducing meat consumption), then I don't think you could even make a legitimate argument.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:49 PM on April 10, 2011

Response by poster: I knew from the get go that there would never be a law of this kind, but in a heated reaction to the recent hubbub in Idaho and Florida, which are utter bullshit, I wanted to take that whole issue and turn it on it's head, and submit it as my homework assignment to boot. THANK YOU SMOKE - that is exactly what I needed to get going in the right direction, and dontjumplarry, this stuff is awesome, thanks.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 7:49 PM on April 10, 2011

You are aware that, in every USDA inspected slaughterhouse, a federal USDA inspector is required to be physically present at all times the line in running? This isn't a direct answer to your question, but given the context, I think it's relevant.

If you need specifics about animal welfare regulations and food safety regulations, I can likely answer them or at least point you in the right direction. Not so much with OSHA stuff, I'm afraid.
posted by stet at 8:11 PM on April 10, 2011

The workers' rights to privacy, especially in those states where both parties must consent to being recorded (on camera or voice only), will trump nearly any other concerns surrounding this idea.

And while animal cruelty is abhorrent--who's the injured party? The ranchers sold the cattle to the company that's going to turn them into steaks, dog food, whatever. So for whose benefit are the tapes going to be made?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:15 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by juv3nal at 9:38 PM on April 10, 2011

The workers' rights to privacy…

Probably doesn't apply. They're on the job, which is relatively public. Employers maintain CCTV cameras covering workplaces all the time, with no more worker consent than some language buried in an employee handbook, if that. Employers have the right to dig through your email and web usage, for example, which is a lot more of an invasion of privacy than taping you doing a repetitive physical task.
posted by hattifattener at 11:39 PM on April 10, 2011

Many states require women to undergo ultrasounds that are medically unnecessary before abortions. Some states even force doctors to read a little script about how abortion stops a beating heart &c.
posted by The White Hat at 5:01 AM on April 11, 2011

Sorry, but the workers do have a right to privacy. A private workspace is not relatively public. Only if they were told, when hired, that random taping of the workspace would happen. CCTV cameras might be in place, but workers are informed that these exist.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2011

Response by poster: For anyone interested, I have finished my proposal. (The costs are way off, and some of the camera stuff is made up, such as number of cameras, etc, but this is a good start):

A Proposal for the Installation of Government Mandated CCTV Cameras in All Certified Organic Livestock Habitats and Abattoirs

“Centralized slaughterhouses emerged first in post-revolutionary France. In 1807, Napoleon himself ordered four central slaughterhouses built to get the messy business out of Paris' streets. Not only was the act of slaughter consolidated in (or at the outskirts of) large cities, but it was also concealed in plain sight, with purposely forgettable architecture. It became easier and easier to avoid reflecting on how many animals need to be killed in order to feed a metropolis” (Dickerman).

Because of the concealment, many ethical problems surround today’s “factory farm” operations (beef, pork, chicken, dairy, eggs and seafood). Depictions of random abuse and unhealthy conditions pepper the internet, particularly YouTube, increasing public outrage. Stories of misuse of antibiotics and hormone injections seep into the news media and animal rights, vegetarian and vegan blogs around the world. Unless the State or Federal governments take action, the growing movement of activists may soon create a public outcry. “The problem is the system that enables cruelty and a lack not just of law enforcement but actual laws. Because the only federal laws governing animal cruelty apply to slaughterhouses, where animals may spend only minutes before being dispatched. None apply to farms, where animals are protected only by state laws” (Bittman).

All food suppliers must maintain a healthy, humane and sustainable habitat, no matter if a “Mom and Pop” own the food source or a conglomerate. The public needs reform to the tragic state of industrial livestock production. While the benefits of FDA installed inspectors on all meat production lines to ensure public safety, cameras on the line would encourage increased humane treatment.

Improper and/or illegal waste disposal poses more problems. “Farms use it [manure containing resistant pathogens] for fertilizer and collect it in sheds and manure lagoons, but those containment measures do not prevent infectious microbes from getting into the air, soil, and water. They can be transported off the farms by the animals themselves, houseflies, farm trucks, and farm workers” (Keiger).

Widespread use of antibiotics creates strains of resistant “superbugs.” “Scientists estimate that 50 percent to 80 percent of all antimicrobials in the United States are not used by doctors to treat sick people or animals but are added to farm animal feed, mostly in such subtherapeutic dosages” (Keiger).

How can lawmakers solve these problems?

Property owners install closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in the backgrounds of gambling casinos, convenience stores and many other public accessible areas to deter crime and to record significant events. Because criminally inclined individuals would sense the presence of cameras, they would tend to behave themselves.

While the government (the Food and Drug Administration) has little or no jurisdiction inside farms, the qualifications of personnel, the production lines and abattoirs, they hold the coin purse of subsidies and authorize the use of the “Certified Organic” stamp. Because Local and Federal government purchase more agro-business products than any other entity, having to stock government cafeterias, WIC programs, Food Stamps, hospitals and schools, lawmakers can influence factory farm behaviors. Because public funding supports Meals on Wheels, WIC, food stamps and school lunches, all citizens should encourage our representative in government to revoke purchasing contracts with vendors who purchase meat and vegetation from farms not conforming to the new CCTV requirements. The CCTV policy requirement will also inform and influence all personnel in agro-business, farmers, policy makers and consumers, making our food healthier for the planet and its people.

However, overcoming limitations imposed by agro-business becomes a serious issue. “Big Agro” Lobbyists ask policymakers to take an opposing position on the proposed CCTV legislation. “In their infinite wisdom the legislatures of Iowa, Minnesota, Florida and others are considering measures that would punish heroic videographers…” (Bittman). Rather than punishing videographers or throwing concerned citizens in jail for taking pictures, we ask that policymakers take contingency measures to ensure the humane treatment of livestock and the safety of produce (by making waste disposal more transparent).

The scope of the requirement includes all open-air and closed-shelter livestock farmland, fish hatcheries, and all animal habitats for any food producing livestock (beef, pork, chicken, dairy, eggs and some seafood). It would not include underwater or undersea CCTV installations.

The primary objective of this requirement is to deter the inhumane living conditions and treatment of livestock. The secondary objective of this requirement is to deter the inhumane slaughtering practices of livestock for the purpose of consumption (meat) or non-consumption (male egg-laying poultry) and waste transparency. The method requires an overreaching install of CCTV in all living areas and abattoirs.

Abattoir owners would be required to purchase and maintain cameras that cover a minimum of 60% of operations, each farm owner must provide 50% image coverage. Indoor images must be at a resolution enabling target objects not less than thirty cubic inches identifiable on screen. Outdoor images must be at a resolution enabling target objects not less than thirty cubic feet identifiable on screen during clear-weather conditions. Owners must install CCTV systems not more than three years of the date of enactment, and properly maintained during operations.

A typical 40 acre farm’s CCTV cost of installation for all indoor and outdoor activities runs about $15,000 including PC-based DVR system, one terabyte hard drive, 25 cameras, 2000 ft cable, connectors, on-screen text, software and maintenance. Lawmakers should consider a revision of the tax code to minimize the financial impact for smaller farms.

By March 1, 2013, every farm and abattoir shall submit to the Secretary to the Governor a plan that: (a) identifies all properties subject to the Factory Farm CCTV Law; and (b) specifies a timetable for ensuring that all such areas contain CCTV devices that broadcast onto the Internet. Such plan may identify circumstances in which such webcasting is either impractical or inappropriate, and may seek approval for exemption from the requirement for webcasting. Except in those circumstances where an exemption granted, all farms and abattoirs shall broadcast on the Internet commencing no later than March 1, 2014. Each farm and abattoir shall submit a report to the Secretary to the Governor by March 1, of every year. The report sets forth the acreage of coverage; the number of cameras; an estimate of the number and type of animal on each property webcast during the prior year. The report shall contain a summary of any comments received from the public regarding the webcasting, and any recommendations for changes or improvements to the CCTV program. In addition, participating farms and abattoirs shall have the right to display the “Certified Crowdsourced Organic” seal on all products, if the FDA has also certified those products as organic.

Works Cited:

Bittman, Mark. “Who Protects the Animals?” April 26, 2011. Web. May 2, 2011.
Dickerman, Sarah. “Well Done, Rare, or Cryovacked.” Slate. Jan. 2, 2009. Web. May 2, 2011.

Keiger, Dale. “Farmacology: Johns Hopkins researchers are investigating a troubling potential source of resistant pathogens: the American farm.” The Johns Hopkins Magazine. June 2009. N. Pag. Web. May 2, 2011.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 3:51 PM on May 2, 2011

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