US – Scenes of dairy cow cruelty filmed by an undercover farm investigator for Mercy for Animals have received strong disapproval from industry bodies.
Animal welfare experts and the National Milk Producers Federation has called on the unnamed Wisconsin farm to review staff training and welfare policies after a video was released showing cows being kicked, verbally distressed and being lifted and dragged by a forklift.
The video showed noncompliant or immobile cows being urged to move with physical beating, including kicking and whipping with a rope.
Footage of disfigured and bleeding cattle have prompted widespread concern and have been labelled, 'completely inappropriate' by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).
The NMPF condemned the scenes at the Di Giorno supplier as ‘unacceptable’ and called on local authorities to investigate the case further.
“Some of the treatment in this video is very abusive, cruel behaviour,” said leading animal welfare expert Dr Temple Grandin, animal welfare panel member of The Center for Food Integrity.
On the evidence available, The Center for Food Integrity panel suggested staff training and knowledge of basic cow welfare principles, such as animal flight zones, was lacking.
Furthermore, some abusive actions appeared deeply ingrained in the daily management of the cattle.
“What takes place in the video appears to be systematic,” said Dr Jim Reynolds of Western University. “For example, they’re all using the same type of coiled rope to repeatedly strike the animals. It appears to me that the employees seen in this video are doing what they were taught to do.”
He added the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) was brought in to ensure uniform animal care practices and provides workers with a manual.
“Every dairy in the United States has gone through the FARM programme training and has signed off on it,” said Dr Reynolds. “They have the FARM manual. Nothing that is seen in the video is allowed under the FARM programme.
Aside from worker conduct, the panel said the farm appeared in an acceptable order, although central lanes appeared slippery.
“The facilities looked fairly new and appeared to be typical of the industry," said Dr Reynolds. “The bedding in the free stalls looked nice. The amount of manure in the walking lanes did not appear to be a problem. The lanes might have been a little slippery as the cows seemed to scramble quite a bit when they tried to get up.”
Dr Reynolds added: “There clearly needs to be more education and training on this farm. There needs to be an acceptance of the need to treat animals with respect and dignity.”
Regarding the movement of cattle via suspension from a fork lift Dr Temple Grandin said: “If an animal won’t get up you need to just walk away and come back later.
“It just might be able to get up if you give it some time. But you certainly don’t use a machine to inappropriately lift it up in the air and you don’t drag animals with a chain.”
It was also suggested that the forklift transportation of cows was not a random event.
Dr Reynolds said: “Management had to have supplied them with the skid loader and show them how to use it."
To ensure no repeat is made, the NMPF strongly urged the farm to improve employee training.
The NMPF commented: "As an initial step, we strongly encourage the farm’s owners to strengthen their employee training protocols, and require all employees to acknowledge and sign the policy that dictates zero tolerance for animal abuse, as a condition of employment."
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