Sunday, June 8, 2008

Meat Packing Recall Could Lead to Increased Surveillance

Here's a good one. I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine from the USDA. He mentioned a major food recall from a large meat packer called Hallmark:

"...this month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company recalled 143 million pounds of meat, following a videotape of plant workers treating cattle cruelly and violating federal regulations. Most meat has likely been consumed; at least 37 million pounds were used for school lunches—the company is a top supplier to that program—and federal nutrition programs. "

During our conversation, my friend gave some details as to how companies violate regulations. One regulation says if the steer is "down", due to sickness or injury or else, the steer cannot be "processed". So the workers at the packing plant would do cruel things to the animal to make it appear the animal is walking before the "process" it. The trouble is, the workers always had a lookout. When the Inspectors are seen, all activities are halted. When the Inspector leaves, the cruelty resumes.

As a recommendation, the USDA is trying to get congress to make Video Surveillance a requirement for all meat and poultry packing plants in the US. The theory is if there is video always present, this would deter the workers from violating the regulations. Now we get into the "meat" of this argument...

If the incredibly tight margin'ed industry of meat and poultry packing were relegated to have "Video Surveillance", I expect the response would be to obtain the cheapest possible video equipment (perhaps a Sam's club special), and call it done. All this does is allows the folks who WANT to violate the rules a means by which they can meet the minimum federal mandate and still break the rules.

Of course, if a congressional law stated some specific guidelines as to where cameras must go and with what types of cameras and recording systems, better safety standards might be ensured. But then, we quickly would be faced with outdated policies made by non-security-minded folks. Not a good idea.

WHAT IF... The proposed law were augmented to include a means by which the Inspector can, over remote connection, link into the installed security system. So at any time, an Inspector can monitor the activities at the site WITHOUT having to travel to the site. The Inspector could also do a random search to ensure cameras are being recorded properly and are properly covering the areas where violations might occur.

WHAT IF... The proposed law were augmented to include a means by which the 100+ Inspectors may have access to a group of mobile cameras and wireless transmitters. What if a half mile away from the packing plant, the Inspector could drive up with a mobile platform, make a couple of adjustments, raise a camera and wireless transmitter up a stationary mast and leave it. Do this in a few places around the violator's plant to get different angles and then set up in one central place to view, record and control those camera. Cameras could be night vision and or thermal in nature allowing for catching the night time violations. Cameras could be Pan, Tilt, Zoom capable to allow for moving around and targeting special areas. With some software, the user may able to quickly create automated, Virtual Tours of the plant to give them constant review if the scene. Once they get the "data" or "evidence" they need, they pack everything up and return to process the video into case files.

Just food for thought...

- Security Caffeine

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