Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eggs-treme Pun-ishment

First off... hello.  It's been a little while.  I've been busy figuring out a career of some sort and thought now would be a great time to check in with some thoughts.

So I guess most of you have heard about all the trouble with eggs in the news.  Undercover video surfaced of some sort of animal abuse at Sparboe Farms.

I haven't seen the video, and I don't feel I need to in this case because my comments will be very general and only use Sparboe Farms as an example.

So here's the scenario:  a video surfaces showing [fill in the blank here] which seem to always be at a facility affiliated with a giant corporation.  Next, we have; public outrage, several righteous press conference by the investigative reporters involved, some threats of boycott & yada yada yada...  The next thing you know, the facility is closed or the company is severely damaged in terms of finances and public perception.  The secret videographers walk away proud that they've proven just how horrible a company is when it reaches a certain size.

Some things to consider:

1. The groups that film these things never seem to make their way onto a small farm... instead, they always end up on what they call a factory farm. 

Why is that?  Are 100% of the small to medium sized farm operations perfect, with no violations or atrocities?  No.  Small and medium farms are usually not associated with a corporation, so activist groups don't actively seek their demise. By the way, what is a factory farm?  I don't know, I always thought that's where Cabbage Patch Dolls were made.

2. We only ever see a video on the videographer's terms.

You could see a dark and dirty barn with animals crowded together, but you'll never see footage of the guy turning the lights off and filming when the animals are only temporarily close together because some other pens are being cleaned(the reason that pen may still be dirty).

Also, we can't accurately judge authentic footage vs. staged footage.  Remember James O'Keefe and those crazy ACORN undercover videos?  How did that work out for ACORN?  Out of business.  You know what else?  The videos were edited and made out to be way worse than they ever really were.  It didn't matter whether it was true or not, it enraged people, and they acted hastily.  Remember the Duke Lacrosse scandal?  Those guys had their lives ruined... and the accusations weren't true.  You get my point.

3. Bad organization or lone wolf?

Even if the video is true and the people filming just happened to be walking by with their cameras and film the horrors they saw, it doesn't tell us how the incident happened and why.  Did the abuser have marching orders or did they act alone?  Did we see a dirty facility on it's worst day or does it always look like that?  Was the person friendly with the person filming and wanted to give them something to go to the media with?  Of course, it can be a horrible culture where certain abuses are allowed, but you really can't gauge that from watching a video.  I will say that large companies spend a ton of money on training for things like food safety and animal welfare.  Does the careless actions of one or two employees speak for an entire organization?

4. Can a company recover from this?

This is a question about punishment.  Is it a lifetime punishment for an offense or can a company correct it's problems whether they are built into the culture or the result of a lone wolf? 

There was a debate last year about undercover videos and whether they should be protected.  My thoughts were that rather than picking up a camera and running to the YouTube or news station with the footage, you should start with the management.  The reason for that is because of #3.  Did you uncover a sinister corporation that beats animals or keeps them in filth because they're evil and that's what evil corporate syndicates do or did you uncover Steve, the disgruntled townie that kicked a hen because it pecked on his foot?  Believe it or not, people that raise animals or make food or even people in general want to do a good job.  Chances are, if that person who filmed that footage took his/her concerns with management, they would have acted to stop it.

By the way, Sparboe Farms had an SQF audit and passed.  I've been in an SQF audit, and trust me, they are no cake walk.  The auditor gets paid whether you pass or not and he/she worked for an approved auditing company that has it's own reputation to worry about, so they have ever reason in the world to call balls and strikes... and trust me, SQF auditors have a very big strike zone.  Even a facility on top of it's game will have a very difficult week with the auditor.  A bad facility will have a very short week with the auditor, because they'll fail quickly.

So are the abuses true?  Could be.  If so, Sparboe Farms should be singled out, but they should also be allowed to make whatever corrections they need to make and still exist.  Let's keep in mind that even-though we have plenty of activists that are essentially anti-corporatists, we have many people that work at these facilities and help run these facilities that are just regular people with bills to pay, not evil henchmen out to get you.