Editor's Blog: Trouble on the farm

by Erica Shaffer
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The hunt is still on for the individual(s) responsible for a string of attacks against 16 poultry houses in Clarendon County, SC. The attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 300,000 chickens over a two-week period. Sheriff’s deputies have received several tips, but so far no arrests have been made. 

Erica Shaffer, Internet Editor, MeatPoultry.com

Erica Shaffer

But crimes against commercial livestock operations don’t end at vandalism. Cattle thefts in Oklahoma have become such a problem that state lawmakers there introduced legislation that would increase penalties for cattle theft (they were promptly hung if caught back in the Wild West days!). In 2014, Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, said 90 percent of the state's cattle thefts were linked to the methamphetamine trade.

Sadly, the vandalism and animal cruelty perpetrated in South Carolina and the thefts in Oklahoma are part of a growing trend of crimes committed against commercial livestock producers. But farm security resources are available to livestock producers. Helping farmers protect their livestock also is a big part of the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s mission. The non-profit organization, which is based in Arlington, Va., maintains a wealth of resources to help producers anticipate and react to threats.

An article produced by the Animal Agriculture Alliance reports the industry has first-hand experience with violent attacks against agriculture operations.

“Producers, processors, feed companies, input suppliers and others have been attacked using firebombs, nail bombs, vandalism and graffiti, our computer systems and Internet security have been breached,” the Alliance wrote. “Some in our industry have been attacked because they believe in the progress of biotechnology. And in some case, threats against those who speak out on behalf of our industries and our progress are all too common.”

The Animal Agriculture Alliance recommends some very basic steps to help maintain security at livestock operations. For example:

• Get to know local police/fire/emergency departments. Know how many officers are on duty during early morning hours, prime time for ‘hits’ on rural facilities.
• Evaluate every request for information about your operation, even the most routine. Verify that the person requesting any sensitive information is who he/she says he/she is, especially those claiming to be reporters.
• Thoroughly screen all job applicants. Take the time to check all references. Also, tell all workers at hiring that unannounced locker checks, etc. are part of routine security measures.
• Be clear that you practice zero tolerance regarding animal mistreatment and that you will prosecute to the full extent of the law, if necessary.

Additional strategies livestock owners can employ to take charge of their personal security include:

• Document any hostile or threatening encounters.
• Never use business contact information in a personal setting.
• Avoid “out of office” auto replies and other indications that you are out of town.
• Remove your contact information from phone listings and other publicly available directories.
• Restrict personal information that is available on social media.

Here’s hoping the perpetrators of the horrific acts of animal cruelty in Clarendon County are brought to justice.

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