It makes perfect sense that prisons, police stations, hospitals and the like have CCTV. But there are buildings across the country where those temporarily in their care have no such protection as standard. All this despite there being undercover reports suggesting daily legal breaches and a petition submitted to parliament with more than 100,000 signatures to make CCTV mandatory.
I remember being shocked eight years ago when Animal Aid campaigners went undercover at a slaughterhouse in Cornwall. Not for the abuse to pigs and sheep their secret filming revealed, but because there wasn’t any legal requirement for CCTV. There still isn’t.
In the most closely watched country, with one surveillance camera for every 11 people, it seems the best place to commit murder in the UK would be inside an abattoir (cue a sarcastic raised eyebrow from those 3.5 million Britons who don’t eat meat).
In August 2016 Professor Ian Rotherham and researchers at Sheffield Hallam University published the Rotherham Report, which concluded that mandatory, independently monitored CCTV should be introduced in UK slaughterhouses.
France, it turns out, has got there first. A few days ago the French national assembly passed a bill for mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses from 2018. In a trial this July a number of slaughterhouses will have CCTV installed in all areas where animals are “moved, held, immobilised, stunned and killed”. The footage will be monitored by animal protection experts and government officials as well as slaughterhouse management to decide how best to craft the final legislation, called Respect for the Animal in Slaughterhouse Law.
It’s this independent monitoring that is the crucial element. Some UK slaughterhouses have installed CCTV after pressure from supermarkets but neither these cameras nor the presence of government-appointed vets have stopped some really horrendous acts going on, proved by secret filming. Studies have found that some slaughterhouse staff create their own narratives about being at war with the animals – two legs good, four legs bad, if you will – to desensitise themselves from the act of killing. One long-term US study found a rise in crime, particularly violent and sexual crimes, linked to slaughterhouse openings in those towns.
Perhaps this is the crux of it. It’s an uncomfortable topic. We worry about the effect on our sanity, not to mention our consciences, to be shown anything unpalatable. The Rotherham Report suggested that “CCTV can also be used to demonstrate high standards of good practice and animal welfare enhancing a business’s reputation”. But how many people really would welcome the opportunity to see such videos?
I doubt very much that Waitrose’s advertising team will be bumping Heston Blumenthal in preference for footage of pigs merrily trotting onto the kill floor at a slaughterhouse, whether they enjoy high standards of good practice and animal welfare there or not.
Death is the last taboo. I’ve avoided describing even the legal killing processes in this article. But if we want to eat meat our society must accept that it happens and bring it from behind closed doors for proper scrutiny.
Perhaps Paul McCartney was right when he said: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”