The nation’s largest frozen pizza company says it will no longer accept milk from a Wisconsin dairy farm after NBC News showed the company undercover video shot by an animal rights group of workers on the farm kicking, beating and stabbing cows and dragging the animals with ropes.
“Nestlé is outraged and deeply saddened by the mistreatment of animals shown in this video,” said Deborah Cross, a spokesperson for Nestlé’s pizza division, which manufactures DiGiorno pizza. Cross confirmed that Nestle gets cheese from an Appleton, Wisc. supplier that uses milk from the Wiese Brothers Farm in nearby Greenleaf, and said that Nestlé had advised the cheese supplier that “we will not accept any cheese made with milk from the Wiese Brothers Farm.”
“We do expect all of our suppliers and their suppliers to meet our stringent guidelines,” said Cross.
The cheese supplier, Foremost Farms USA, also said that it was "extremely disappointed" by the treatment depicted in the video. "To protect consumer trust and confidence in the dairy industry, we have discontinued receiving milk from the farm depicted in the video," said Foremost Farms spokesperson Joan Behr.
The owners of the farm said that they were “shocked and saddened” to see the footage, and have “zero tolerance for animal abuse.” In a statement, the Wiese family said that it had terminated two employees and removed a third employee from “animal handling” responsibilities.
“Further action will be taken if the investigation warrants it,” said the statement.
An officer with the local sheriff’s department confirmed that police are also investigating the alleged abuse.
The video was shot by an activist from the animal rights group Mercy for Animals in October and November who worked undercover as a farmhand at the farm. Mercy for Animals then provided the video to NBC News.
“No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate and neglect animals,” said MFA’s executive director, Nathan Runkle. “Due to its complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards, DiGiorno has allowed a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”
Cross said that Nestle is committed to proper animal handling and has guidelines for suppliers. “We will not knowingly work with companies that violate our Responsible Sourcing Guidelines,” said Cross.
Watch the video on the Mercy for Animals website.
The video shows workers hoisting the animals into the air by their hindquarters with a cow lift, and many images of cows who are bleeding or appear to have infected wounds. Cows that are sick and injured are dragged by their necks or legs with ropes attached to tractors.
One worker is shown poking cows with a stick and jabbing a sharp instrument into the back of a cow until blood flows. Other workers can be seen kicking cows or beating them with sticks and heavy ropes.
Renowned livestock expert Temple Grandin, an associate professor of livestock behavior at Colorado State University and an animal welfare adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the meat industry, reviewed the undercover video and said it was evidence of abuse.
“Dragging live cows, and completely suspending them with the cow lift is severe animal abuse,” Grandin said. “The actions of these people went beyond rough handling and escalated to the level of cruelty. Kicking, beating, and hard whipping of downed cows is abusive.”
Capt. David Konrath of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that an investigation is underway.
“It something we’re looking into right now,” said Konrath. “At the conclusion of the investigation we’ll give the case to the district attorney and he will make a decision about whether charges would be filed.”
In its statement, the Wiese family said it is cooperating with local law enforcement, and that after viewing the video it had asked an “independent animal care auditor from a national evaluation firm” to conduct a thorough review of the farm’s written guidelines for animal handling, and to observe its employees and the condition of its cows.
“While they noted a few areas for improvement, their overall analysis indicated our animals are clean , well cared for and treated appropriately by employees.”
Starting in 2012, according to the Wieses, employees were required to review and sign a pledge about proper animal treatment as a condition of employment.
“We are shocked and saddened to see a few of our employees not following our farm’s policies for proper animal care,” said the statement. “We are committed to providing optimal care and ask all our employees to demonstrate ongoing respect for every animal at all times.”
The statement said that employees would periodically be shadowed by their supervisor “to ensure protocols in place are being met or exceeded.”
“Each of these actions, along with any others we add as appropriate, will help us ensure the behaviors seen in this video are never repeated on our farm,” said the statement.
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First published December 10 2013, 6:08 AM