Three dairy workers face animal cruelty charges

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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BOISE, Idaho – Three former employees of Idaho’s largest dairy operation are facing misdemeanor animal cruelty charges after an undercover video shot by animal rights activists showed workers abusing cows inside a barn, according to the Associated Press.

A member of Mercy for Animals shot the video inside Bettencourt Dairies’ Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, Idaho. The video shows workers punching, stomping and slapping cows; beating cows with pink rods and dragging them across wet floors.

The Twin Falls county prosecutor filed misdemeanor animal cruelty charges against Jesus Garza, Jose Acensio and Javier Victor Rojas Loayza in late August following an investigation prompted by the video. The men face fines of up to $5,000 each and jail time if convicted, according to AP.

In a statement on the company’s website, Luis and Sharon Bettencourt said they were appalled at the images depicted in the video.

“As a family owned dairy for 30 years we have hired and consulted with the best available veterinarians and industry professionals to ensure the proper care, feeding and management of our dairy cattle,” the owners said. “We feel it is our ethical and moral responsibility to take the best care possible of our cows.
“Because of our commitment to our dairy herd, animal abuse or misuse has a zero tolerance policy and is dealt with as swiftly as possible.”

The company detailed steps taken to address the abuse:

• An employee interview process began in cooperation with Idaho agriculture department officials.
• Five employees identified in the video were fired.

• The video was shown to current dairy employees and each employee signed and acknowledged the company’s zero tolerance policy as a condition of employment.

• Security and monitoring of the company’s dairies is under review, with recent changes including video monitoring, on-site security and signs on all dairies.

• Employee training protocols are under review and changes will be made as necessary.

“These steps, along with others as needed, are intended to ensure that the actions and behavior shown in this video are never repeated again,” the statement concluded.

A panel of farm animal care and handling experts reviewed the dairy farm video and concluded that the practices depicted in the video were unacceptable and clearly abusive.

“I watched the dairy video and the abuse of the downed cow with electric prods and dragging with the tractor," said Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert and columnist for Meat&Poultry magazine. "It was horrific animal abuse. The employees were constantly beating and kicking animals as hard as they could.

"The atrocious treatment of cows at this dairy is an indicator of a total lack of management supervision,” she added.

Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue Univ., said the workers' actions were indefensible.

“The treatment of the animals in this video is scientifically and morally abhorrent," Dr. Croney said. "None of the people I saw in this video appears to have the training or compassion needed to work with animals.

"It’s not just that they’re improperly handling the animals — their attitudes are abusive, their language is abusive and what they are physically doing to these animals is abusive. There is nothing in this video that can be defended," she said.

Dr. Jim Reynolds of Western Univ. said the workers had no training in animal handling, and that the video seemed to show a continuous pattern of abuse by employees. Dr. Reyonlds also said the dairy barn was a hazardous environment for the cows.

“The slippery floor of the milking parlor obviously is dangerous for the cows,” Reynolds said. “The design of the exit in the milking parlor allows cows to get their heads caught. Several cows were trapped under the exit and one cow was lifted by her head and off her front feet (hanging her).

“Management should have fixed this serious problem,” he added.

The Center for Food Integrity created the Animal Care Review Panel to provide expert perspectives on undercover videos for food retailers, the dairy industry and the media.

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