A recent Washington Post article about safety concerns in the food industry revealed that the plants that process dairy products are inspected, on average, once every decade. You read that right: once every decade.
While the FDA, which regulates dairy plants, is under pressure to overhaul its inspection procedures, a new undercover investigation by PETA shows that more oversight is also needed on the farms themselves.
A PETA investigator spent three months working at a New York dairy farm that supplies Agri-Mark, which makes Cabot and McCadam cheeses. Cows on this farm were jabbed and struck, even in the udder, with poles and canes. Young calves bellowed and thrashed as workers burned their horn buds—without providing any pain relief—in order to stop their horns from growing. Such atrocities should make any caring person think twice about buying cow’s milk and cheese.
PETA’s investigator documented one farm manager as he repeatedly electro-shocked a cow in the face. The same man also jabbed another cow, who was unable to stand, in the ribs with a screwdriver and used a skid steer to drag her 25 feet.
Supervisors failed to provide veterinary care or euthanasia to cows who were suffering from bloody vaginal prolapses. One boss said “we do nothing” for such cows, and indeed, the animals’ exposed, pus- and manure-covered tissue was left untreated for months. He added that when a cow’s “whole uterus comes out” during calving, farm workers simply push it back in and hope that the animal lives “long enough for the beef truck to come get her.”
Another manager, a layperson, laughingly admitted that he had plunged a long needle into “the wrong organ” of one cow when trying to penetrate her stomach. Twelve days later, evidently not having recovered and no longer useful to the dairy farm, the cow was loaded onto a truck and sent to a slaughterhouse.
Some of the abuses that we documented are standard practice in the dairy industry. For example, workers wrapped tight bands around calves’ tails in order to cause the tissue to die and fall off, a cruel procedure that results in acute and chronic pain. Workers used “guns” to artificially inseminate cows and injected cows with bovine growth hormone, or BGH, to increase their milk production. BGH contributes to an extremely painful udder infection called “mastitis,” and cows tested positive for it almost daily.
PETA is calling for appropriate disciplinary action—including termination—against all workers who abused or neglected animals at this farm. We’re also asking Agri-Mark to implement a number of new polices immediately, including phasing out all forms of dehorning, such as the burning of horn buds on calves’ heads, and banning the use of electric-shock devices.
These changes will eliminate some of the most egregious forms of cruelty to cows on Agri-Mark member farms. But they won’t eliminate all of them.
As long as consumers continue to purchase dairy products instead of healthier options such as almond milk and soy cheese, animals will continue to suffer. Mother cows will continue to watch helplessly as their calves—whom they carry for nine months, just like us—are torn away from them again and again, which is acutely distressing to both cow and calf. They will continue to go lame from intense confinement and filthy surroundings. And they will continue to be trucked to slaughter and ground up for burgers and dog food when their worn-out bodies are no longer of any use to farmers.
If you find such cruelty hard to swallow, the solution is simple: Dump dairy from your diet.
Daphna Nachminovitch is the vice president of cruelty investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.