Four dairy farmers have been criminally charged with animal cruelty at a Wisconsin dairy farm that formerly supplied food giant Nestlé SA (VTX:NESN) and a subsidiary of the company, frozen pizza maker DiGiorno Pizza.
An earlier undercover investigation at the Wiese Brothers Farms in Greenleaf, Wis., showed the farmers beating and stabbing cows. At the time, the farm supplied milk to a Nestle supplier, the dairy co-operative Foremost Farms.
The four farmers, who were charged Tuesday, together face 11 criminal counts. Each misdemeanor count of animal abuse could result in maximum fines of $10,000 or nine months behind bars, according to legal documents.
Animal rights activists Mercy For Animals, who conducted the investigation and contacted law enforcement late last year, welcomed the criminal complaints from Brown County officials.
“Animal abuse runs rampant throughout the dairy industry,” said Mercy for Animals executive director Nathan Runkel to IBTimes. “Every time we’ve set foot on a dairy factory farm, we find egregious animal abuse that rises to the level of being criminal.”
“That’s why we’re calling on Nestlé, the largest dairy producing company in the country, to implement strong animal welfare policies and oversight,” he continued.
Nestlé may be slightly ahead of the activists, however. The company dropped the Wiese Brothers Farm as a supplier immediately after the incident and denied knowledge of the abuse at the time.
“Nestlé believes that animal cruelty is never acceptable -- and we recognize our responsibility to do what it takes to eliminate it from our supply chain. We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards,” Nestlé spokesman Edie Burge told IBTimes in an email.
“In January we launched a new strenuous audit program in the U.S. that targets our direct suppliers as well as others who do business with or provide ingredients to our direct suppliers. This includes third-party, in-person audits of our U.S. dairy supply,” he continued.
The company maintains animal welfare, supplier codes and responsible sourcing policies.
This is the fourth Mercy For Animals dairy farm investigation in the past five years that has resulted in criminal charges, Runkel told IBTimes. He declined to comment on the number of ongoing undercover investigations the group is conducting.
The Chicago-based organization sometimes comes under fire for its controversial undercover tactics from industry groups.
“We need to see corporate leaders step up to the plate and take responsibility,” said Runkel. “It’s made worse by the fact that there’s no federal law that provides protection to animals during their life on factory farms and no government body charged with inspection.”
Several animal vets told county police that the video footage revealed “cruel treatment outside of normally accepted veterinary practices,” court documents show.