CCTV in slaughterhouses: Security professionals dismiss privacy concerns of meat industry
Legislation mandating the operation of CCTV in abattoirs has met with little dissent from the media and general public since it was announced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in November.
And reservations expressed by an association representing meat suppliers have been dismissed as ill-founded by two security professionals who spoke to IFSEC Global. All slaughterhouses in England must have CCTV cameras installed by the spring. Owners of slaughterhouses will be given six months to comply with the new regulations.
The move was prompted by a number of online videos showing slaughterhouse staff mistreating animals. Videos filmed by animals rights group Animal Aid showed abattoir staff punching, kicking and stamping on animals and stubbing out cigarettes on pigs' faces. David Bowles, the RSPCA's Head of Public Affairs, identified some of the issues that CCTV installers will be tasked with addressing: "The RSPCA looks forward to seeing the details of the proposal as issues such as where the cameras will be located, footage quality and storage, and who can have access to it are essential to making the legislation meaningful."
The measures mandate that the most recent 90 days of footage must be accessible to vets employed by the Food Standards Agency.
An abattoir found violating animal welfare or food safety laws could lose their license or face prosecution. However, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) - which does support the legislation in principle - questioned the wisdom of such extensive access. "We believe a practical solution would be to provide FSA [Food Standards Agency] vets unrestricted access to real-time footage," said Norman Bagley, Head of policy at AIMS, shortly after the government announced the plans.
"To permit FSA to review months of recordings of staff who have not consented to being filmed and initiate retrospective prosecutions is unprecedented. Similar controls over staff in hospitals and care homes would never be contemplated so there is no justification for discrimination of abattoir workers."
"Abbatoir workers will be warned by signage and their employment contracts that they will be filmed." Simon Lambert, CCTV consultant
But Simon Lambert, a CCTV consultant, was unimpressed by this argument. "AIMS claim staff will have 'not consented to be being filmed' but, under the Data Protection Act and GDPR, they are warned by signage and their employment contracts. "Objecting to the FSA's power to 'initiate retrospective prosecutions' is odd as retrospective prosecution is the only way.
Staff in hospitals are often monitored where the privacy of patients is not undermined. "Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) are always recommended beforehand. Animals are not afforded such privacy, so the comparison is poor."
[embedded content] Lambert didn't see the merit in Bagley's proposals to give "vets unrestricted access to real-time footage" instead of access to the most recent 90 days of footage. "This suggests they would prefer recordings are not routinely made," he said. "Is this to weaken evidence in prosecutions?
"Surveillance and personal data processing should always be proportionate to the situation. When justified, and not excessive, it can protect all parties." Normal Bagley of AIMS also suggested that filming abattoir workers would deter people from applying for jobs in the industry. "The presence of CCTV will potentially make it more difficult to retain staff, and we anticipate it may be more difficult to recruit new staff to work in these areas," he said.
"What do they have to hide in a closely-regulated industry?" Simon Lambert, CCTV consultant
However, Lambert was puzzled by this assertion too given the ubiquity of surveillance cameras - the average Brit is caught on camera 70 times a day. "CCTV is now common in industry.
If 'The presence of CCTV will potentially make it more difficult to retain staff', then we wonder how their staff differ from others. What do they have to hide in a closely-regulated industry?" Several major UK supermarkets already insist that all their meat and dairy suppliers have CCTV installed.
IFSEC Global is unaware that slaughterhouses supplying the supermarkets in question have any problems recruiting staff.#
Far from making slaughterhouse staff uneasy, the presence of CCTV cameras might even reassure them, a security integrator has suggested. "This will also provide a safety net for slaughterhouse employees as they can sometimes become potential targets for animal rights activists," said Peter Houlis, MD of North Shields-based security firm 2020 Vision. While videos showing animal cruelty triggered the legislation, the sophistication of today's technology may well have helped convince the government that such measures were workable.
The proposal was, after all, included in the Conservative Manifesto for the 2017 General Election. "With today's high definition (HD) image quality and the likes of video analytics being introduced, the Food Standards Agency and the official veterinarians will be able to monitor operations to make sure slaughterhouses are acting accordingly within regulations, while operators will be able to demonstrate compliance," said Houlis. A month-long consultation with industry groups, animal welfare campaigners and members of the public found widespread support - 99% of 4,000 respondents - for the new law.
Houlis was heartened that the public understood the need for CCTV in slaughterhouses. The better privacy protections introduced by the GDPR from May 2018 (a subject on which Houlis has offered advice to CCTV operators), he implied, could buttress public support for proportionate CCTV in other situations. "There is always a public concern when it comes to the mandatory implementation of CCTV systems.
However, with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, the public couldn't have responded better to CCTV in slaughterhouses. "Although animal slaughter is a distasteful subject, it is a necessary process in the food chain and Michael Gove has taken steps in the right direction to make CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. The Welsh government are considering making the same changes, and I'm sure that Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow suit."
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