NESTLÉ Foods’ said it had severed all ties with a Wisconsin Dairy depicted in an undercover video of animal abuse released by animal rights group Mercy For Animals (MFA). The video, released Dec. 10, showed workers kicking, beating and dragging cows in a way that noted animal welfare expert Temple Grandin described as “very abusive, cruel behavior.”
MFA, known for its undercover video and fervent promotion of a vegan lifestyle, used the video to target Nestlé’s DiGiorno Pizza brand, calling on consumers to “ditch dairy, ditch DiGiorno.”
The video was filmed in October at Wiese Brothers Farms in Greenleaf, Wisc., near Green Bay. Nestlé purchases cheese for its pizzas from Foremost Farms, a regional cooperative with several cheese processing facilities throughout Wisconsin, including a plant in Appleton, where Weise Brothers delivered milk.
Foremost Farms said they will no longer accept milk from the dairy, which said that it has terminated two employees as part of its own investigation into what happened in the video. Industry sources tell Feedstuffs that the farm has been cooperating with local authorities, including the sheriff’s department and prosecuting attorney, in addition to bringing in outside animal welfare experts to audit and evaluate the farm’s policies, procedures, training and management.
Grandin, the Colorado State University professor, said that the problems depicted in the video indicate an obvious deficiency in those areas.
“My experience has been that when problems like these occur it can usually be traced back to a lack of supervision,” she said. “There are clear problems of employee training and employee supervision seen in this video. It takes strong management to make it be known that there are certain things you just don’t do and won’t be tolerated.”
Jim Reynolds, a professor of large animal medicine and welfare at Western University in Pomona, Calif., agreed, saying that there was “nothing defendable in the video,” and that the cows shown in the footage were under stress, in fear and probably in pain. He said that the types of behaviors shown by workers in the video should lead to criminal charges of animal cruelty.
“The employees seen in the video completely lacked basic understanding of animal welfare and animal behavior,” said Reynolds. “They showed no empathy for the cows.”
For its part, MFA used the video to encourage the organization’s supporters to bombard DiGiorno’s Facebook page with negative comments, and specifically to promote a vegan lifestyle.
“Although unconscionable cruelty and violence are standard practice for DiGiorno cheese suppliers, caring consumers can help end the needless suffering of cows and other farmed animals by choosing vegan alternatives to milk, cheese and ice cream,” MFA said via its website. “Cows have a natural lifespan of about 25 years and can produce milk for eight or nine years, but the stress caused by factory farm conditions leads to disease, lameness, and reproductive problems that render cows worthless to the dairy industry by the time they are four or five years old.”
According to published profiles of the farm, Wiese Brothers milked more than 4,300 cows in two facilities as of January 2012. Sources tell Feedstuffs that the operation manages as many as 8,600 animals following an expansion project completed last year.