Four workers from a Wisconsin dairy farm who were seen on an undercover video allegedly abusing cows have been charged with a total of 11 counts of animal cruelty.
Video shot by an undercover investigator for the animal rights group Mercy for Animals late last year showed employees at Wiese Brothers Farm in Greenleaf, Wis. kicking, beating and stabbing cows and dragging the animals with ropes.
When NBC News showed the video to DiGiorno Pizzas, which purchased cheese made from Wiese Brothers' milk, the nation's largest frozen pizza company said it would no longer accept products made from the farm's milk.
In December, the owners of the farms said they were "shocked and saddened" by what was shown on the tape, and had terminated two employees and removed another from contact with animals.
This week, Brown County, Wis., prosecutors charged Abelardo Jaimes, Lucia Martinez and Misael Monge-Minero with three counts of mistreating animals and charged Crescencio Pineda with two counts of the same offense. Each count carries a maximum penalty of nine months in prison and a $10,000 fine. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearance in a Green Bay courtroom on March 4.
"These criminal charges should be a wake-up call that heartbreaking animal abuse runs rampant at DiGiorno cheese suppliers," said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals. "No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that torture animals."
A spokesperson for Nestle Pizza, which owns DiGiorno, said that "Nestle believes that animal cruelty is never acceptable - and we recognize our responsibility to do whatever it takes to eliminate it from our supply chain."
The spokesperson said that in January Nestle Pizza had launched a new "strenuous audit program" for U.S. suppliers that targets both direct suppliers and companies that provide ingredients to direct suppliers, and that "all companies in our supply chain" would be measured against the company's standards for animal welfare.
Representatives of Wiese Brothers Farms did not immediately respond to a request for comment.