Coles won’t rule out CCTV on Australian farms

Despite a barrage of requests on Twitter and emails to the Coles executive interviewed by ABC Radio, Coles has refused to rule out video surveillance of Australian farming families.

All it would say was that it has “no plans” for the cameras. It’s a remarkable turnaround given the enthusiasm for CCTV on farms so publicly expressed by one of its most senior executives on Wednesday. Either Jackie Healing was way out of line or Coles could do with a little more transparency of its own.

Seeing as the retail Goliath decided not to respond, here’s my best attempt at answering the questions Coles apparently found too hot to handle:

  1. What do you consider are the benefits of video cameras on farm?
    The presence of the cameras could lift the awareness of animal welfare, while reassuring the wider community that farm animals are well treated.
  2. Do you see any potential problems?
    A family farm is also a home and I will not have our little family watched by millions via spy cameras. Imagine CCTV on your backyard streaming live to the internet. Totally unacceptable.
  3. Do you have any concerns that practices in the best interests of animals (restraint for vaccinations or veterinary procedures, for example) could be misconstrued by viewers?
    The viewers would deserve an explanation for some of the practices they’d see. Veterinary treatment for an eye cancer, for example, could very well look like animal abuse on video.
  4. Do you anticipate Australian farmers will volunteer to host the cameras?
  5. Have you (Coles) discussed the possibility of cameras with farmer organisations? If so, what has been the response?
    I don’t know.
  6. If Australian farmers do not volunteer to host the cameras, how will Coles respond?
    I am guessing they would refuse to pay for the milk but Coles won’t say.
  7. Does Coles plan to offer education for consumers about animal husbandry practices?
    This would be critical but was not mentioned by Coles quality manager, Jackie Healing. It would be a gargantuan undertaking.
  8. Where would cameras be mounted on a typical 500-acre dairy farm?
    To be effective, they’d need to be in the dairy, the calf sheds, the yards, the ute, the quad bikes, the tractor and the paddocks. That’s around 50 cameras on my farm alone.
  9. How would the dairy supply chain need to be “remodelled”?
    If Coles does intend to follow the Tesco example, it will try to contract farmers directly, giving it incredible control over the food consumers get and the price farmers are paid.
  10. Will Coles install cameras in the food preparation areas of supermarkets?
    I suspect not.

I am hoping that, despite its silence, Coles has got the message. Please pass it on. The supermarket wants to become a superpower and it has to hear loud and clear that Australians from every walk of life reckon it’s gone too far this time.