There are, of course, issues of genuine concern about the prevalence of CCTV in our society. The extent to which we live our lives under surveillance is frequently and hotly debated. Rightly so in my view. Nevertheless, CCTV benefits are clear. It deters crime and, when used as evidence in a court of law, helps to prosecute people for their criminal behaviour.
I first called for CCTV in slaughterhouses in 2009. I was sharing here with you my frustration at the European Union and its new Slaughter Regulation for its failure to tackle important animal welfare issues. This was despite our best lobbying efforts to improve things. CCTV was not on the agenda then. Two years later, it is all but absent from the “to do” list at Brussels and at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in London.
Last year, I repeated my call after watching footage taken inside a slaughterhouse by Animal Aid, who had arranged for CCTV to be installed secretly. In what now appears to be an annual event, in July Animal Aid released new footage shot by concealed CCTV cameras in a slaughterhouse showing appalling cruelty to farm animals.
Surely this was evidence to prosecute?
We joined with Animal Aid and others in asking Jim Paice MP, the agriculture and food minister at DEFRA, to act.
“The fact that this CCTV footage was obtained without permission,” I wrote, “does not diminish the government’s duty to consider credible evidence of breaches of EU legislation on the welfare of animals at slaughter.”
The minister claimed DEFRA could not prosecute because the footage was shot without the permission of the slaughterhouse management, as the persons involved would have trespassed on the property, thereby making the footage inadmissible as evidence in a UK court. Then, it was announced the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will take over DEFRA’s prosecution duties in September. A development, apparently, that had been in the works for some time. In any event, I welcome it, as I hope the CPS will be more willing than DEFRA to bring prosecutions.
One of the employees identified in the footage was dismissed, the minister told to me in his letter, and another did not have their provisional slaughter licence renewed. Further, he said the “possibility of compulsory CCTV in abattoirs” is under consideration. I am pleased to see the Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for food safety and food hygiene, endorse CCTV in slaughterhouses. But I worry the government will follow and not lead farmers and food suppliers who are already taking steps in the right direction. For example, toward the end of last year we saluted supermarket, Morrisons, for pledging to install CCTV cameras in all its abattoirs by the end of this year. Others will surely want to add their voice to this call.
Notwithstanding these developments, I confess to finding it hard to believe existing law prevents Defra from requiring the installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses. Particularly in these times, when we rely upon CCTV so much as an important tool to help keep law and order, there is no reason why the legal and humane slaughter of animals for food cannot be monitored in this way.