Understand the threat

A lot has been written in the national press about the video footage obtained by Animal Aid, showing slaughtering taking place in UK abattoirs. Understandably, the initial reaction of the food business operators (FBOs) involved, and the rest of the meat industry, was to reiterate the commitment to maintaining high animal welfare standards.

This is hardly surprising because, as anyone who has any contact with the industry is well aware, in the UK, animal welfare is as important to FBOs as it is to the public. Welfare standards are taken extremely seriously. This is why the current proposals to have CCTV in abattoirs are being seriously considered by the industry as a whole.

The irony is that, while an industry that is unique in having a regime of 100% supervision by government inspectors, works hard to ensure welfare standards are higher in this country than anywhere else in the world, Animal Aid itself is far more concerned with damaging the industry than it is in ensuring that welfare standards are maintained.


Political tactics


I must make it clear that I do not criticise Animal Aid for having a political agenda. I am proud to live in a free country, where a vegetarian pressure group can express any view it wishes, despite fundamentally disagreeing with their core belief that human beings should not eat meat. My concern is that Animal Aid is using tactics that have no place in a civilised society in order to achieve its political ends.

During the course of the recent cases, Animal Aid presented evidence to Defra, obtained by Thomas Frampton a man that they described as an investigator. Frampton would gain entrance to abattoirs in the middle of the night and erect tiny covert surveillance cameras. The unlawful entry was repeated in order to retrieve the cameras. In some cases, unhappy with the material obtained, Frampton would trespass on private premises on multiple occasions. While it is tempting to focus on the alleged regulatory breaches that Animal Aid claimed the cameras captured, it is important for a moment to consider this method of investigation. In the UK, there are strict laws governing the use of covert surveillance.

If the police, the security services, or even the Food Standards Agency (FSA) themselves wished to conduct a covert surveillance operation in an abattoir, they would have to comply with the procedures laid down in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This act contains safeguards to ensure that the powers the authorities have to watch UK citizens are not abused. The authorities must consider whether the surveillance is necessary, proportionate, and they must ensure that it is carried out in a manner that minimises the risk of intrusion into the lives of people who are not under surveillance.

Frampton, a man whom it transpires has a string of previous convictions, including for violent offences, was not authorised under these procedures. As a result, there was absolutely no proper oversight of his actions. No-one oversaw the impact that he may have had on the hygiene regime in place at the abattoirs to which he gained access. No-one took responsibility for ensuring that his actions were proportionate or in accordance with the law. Luckily, no-one came across him on his late-night excursions. It is chilling to think what could have happened had he been confronted.

Defra, quite properly, has decided that it is not safe to rely on material obtained in this way. The FBOs will continue to work with the FSA to ensure that any lessons that need to be learned from this episode are learned. This, however, is unlikely to be the end of Animal Aid's campaign against the meat industry and livestock farming in general. A quick look at their website indicates that their central aim is to eradicate meat from the UK diet. This is to be achieved by making it as difficult as possible for the industry to operate. They are highly organised and in possession of sophisticated equipment and techniques. If Animal Aid were to be successful in harming the UK meat industry, the only likely winners would be foreign companies, whose welfare standards are not monitored in this country. This would appear to be a welfare price that Animal Aid is content to pay in promoting vegetarianism. It is vital that the industry does not underestimate the threat they represent.