MILWAUKEE (AP) — Top-selling frozen pizza brand DiGiorno and
its cheese supplier cut ties with a Wisconsin dairy farm after an animal rights
group released undercover video showing workers beating, kicking, stabbing and
whipping sick and injured cows.
Wiese Brothers Farm owner Mark Wiese told the Associated
Press that he fired two employees and assigned another to duties that don’t
involve handling animals after seeing the video. Wiese, who owns the 5,000-cow
farm in Greenleaf with his brother, said he was not aware of the abuse until
late last month.
“My brother and I and our families are just very, very shook
up about the whole incident,” he said. “And we’re just going to continue to
complete our investigation and make sure changes are made if needed and make our
business stronger and better.”
The farm sold its milk to Foremost Farms. Foremost supplies
cheese to DiGiorno, which is owned by Nestle USA.
Nestle said in a statement that it had asked Foremost Farms
not to send it cheese made from Wiese Brothers Farm milk. Foremost Farms said it
had stopped buying from Wiese Brothers.
Wiese Brothers also faces an investigation by the local
sheriff’s department. A captain there said he couldn’t comment on the details.
An activist with Mercy For Animals shot the video while
working on the farm in October and November, said Matt Rice, the group’s
director of investigations. Clips show cows that can’t stand being dragged with
ropes and heavy equipment or lifted with clamps.
Workers whip, kick and stab other cows to get them moving.
One animal bleeds from cuts in its side, and another bleeds from its rear.
Since 2012, the 5,000-cow farm has required employees who
handle animals to review and sign its humane treatment policy as part of the
hiring process. Typically, that would be about seven of the farm’s 45 dairy
workers, Wiese said. The farm also provides training for workers who are caring
for sick animals.
Since seeing the video, the farm has taken additional steps
to ensure proper treatment, including calling a supervisor to oversee care when
an animal goes down and designating three workers as specialists in caring for
cows too sick or injured to stand.
Wiese, a second-generation dairy farmer, said he’s not sure
what led to the abuse.
“I can’t put myself in their state of mind at the time of
these incidents and everything like that, and that’s all stuff that’s going to
have to come out as we continue to investigate,” he said.
“It touched a nerve with everyone in the dairy,” he added.
Ari Solomon, a spokesman for Mercy For Animals, said while
the farm might present the abuse as the actions of a couple of employees, his
group has seen similar violence at five other dairy and veal farms where it has
done investigations since 2009.
“The best thing people can do to stop abuse on dairy farms
is not eat dairy,” said Solomon, whose group advocates a vegan diet.
Short of that, he called on Nestle to adopt an animal
welfare policy that would specifically bar such actions as dragging cattle that
can’t walk, hitting and kicking animals and using electric-shock devices. Nestle
has an animal welfare policy that recognizes animals’ right to be free from
fear, distress, pain and injury, among other things.
“We will not knowingly work with companies that violate”
that policy, spokeswoman Deborah Cross said.
Chris Booth, a veterinarian whose practice focuses on dairy
animals, said sick cows should be helped to their feet using straps or gentle
rocking. If they can’t stand, a sled or mat can be used to move them to a soft
surface, such as sand and straw, while they recover.
Using hooks to lift cows in the air and hitting or kicking a
cow to get it moving isn’t defensible, said Booth, the president of the
Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association.
Foremost Farms, a cooperative owned by the 1,800 farms in
seven states that supply it, had an independent auditor visit the farm soon
after it learned of the allegations.
“While they noted a few areas for improvement, their overall
analysis indicated our animals are clean, well cared for and treated
appropriately by employees,” the farm said a statement.
Joan Behr, a spokeswoman for Foremost Farms, said she
generally agreed with that but said the company still had to take action.
The video “certainly has an impact on consumer confidence in
dairy handling practices,” she said. “We need to show these activities are not
something we condone.”
Wiese said the farm is working on finding a new buyer for
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