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Abuse of Idaho dairy cows puts heat on Kraft

WARNING: Video below, supplied by Mercy for Animals, contains graphic content and disturbing images.

Updated: November 12, 2012 11:49AM

Workers viciously punch, kick, jump atop and stomp on cows held in restraints as the animals scream in pain in a video shot with a hidden camera.

In other scenes from the video released Wednesday, the cows are mercilessly beaten with canes and shocked with electric prods as they struggle to keep their balance on the slippery and unsanitary feces-covered floors of holding sheds.

The footage filmed at Bettencourt Dairies’ Dry Creek Dairy in Idaho — one of the largest dairy farms in the nation — has led to charges of criminal cruelty to animals against three workers and put heat on Northfield-based Kraft Foods, the fourth-largest food manufacturer in North America.

Bettencourt supplies milk to a cheese processor for Kraft, according to Mercy for Animals, the animal-rights group responsible for the video. The group showed the video at a news conference Wednesday at the downtown Embassy Suites Chicago.

Bettencourt also sells milk to cheese suppliers for the Wendy’s burger chain. Wendy’s said Wednesday that it had demanded that its supplier sever ties with Bettencourt immediately.

Bettencourt is an indirect supplier to Burger King, the world’s second-largest burger chain, which said it had launched an investigation that could result in similar action.

Kraft said it had no plans to sever ties to its cheese supplier, Davisco.

“Kraft condemns the handling behaviors shown in this video. They are both upsetting and unacceptable. We have long believed high-quality dairy products begin with quality animal care,” Kraft spokeswoman Angela Wiggins said.

“It is important to note that Kraft does not have direct supplier relationship with Bettencourt Dairies,” she said. “However, we have made it clear to [cheese supplier Davisco] that these types of incidents are both deplorable and unacceptable.”

Mercy for Animals said it had hoped the video would persuade all three companies to stop using milk from Bettencourt.

That would send a message to the dairy industry, where abuses such as those seen in the video run rampant, said the group, which wants the companies to require suppliers to establish policies on care and treatment of cattle.

“Due to Kraft’s complete lack of meaningful animal-welfare standards, blatant and sadistic animal cruelty was allowed to flourish at this factory farm,” Rebecca Frye, director of education for Mercy for Animals, said at the news conference.

“No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate, confine and neglect animals. Kraft must take immediate actions to prevent further abuse at its suppliers,” Frye said.

The video, which was shot by a member of the group who got a job at Bettencourt this summer, includes footage of workers violently twisting cows’ tails and dragging a cow by a chain around its neck and shows sick or injured cows suffering without veterinary care.

Misdemeanor charges were filed in August against two workers and a manager, who face a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in jail.

Bettencourt Dairy’s owners said in a statement that after being confronted with the video by the Idaho Department of Agriculture, they fired five workers, installed video cameras and retrained staff.

The farm houses about 60,000 milk cows.

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