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DENVER - Denver-based cheese giant Leprino Foods says it has terminated all shipments from a New Mexico dairy where workers were caught on video abusing cows.
"Leprino Foods cares deeply about the health and welfare of the animals on the farms that supply our milk," the company said in a statement Wednesday. "As soon as Leprino Foods was informed about the abuse on one of these dairies, all shipments from that farm were terminated immediately."
Leprino Foods says it is the world’s largest mozzarella cheese producer. It provides cheese for powerhouse pizza companies like Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut along with Nestle brands, including Hot Pockets and Stouffer's frozen pizzas and lasagnas.
An activist with the Los Angeles-based animal welfare group Mercy for Animals began working at Winchester Dairy and captured video in August and September of workers whipping, kicking and punching cows. The hidden-camera video also showed sick or injured cows being dragged with a tractor while workers shock them with electric prods in the genitals.
"We take these situations extremely seriously and are extremely repulsed by these events," Leprino Foods said. "The actions depicted in the video are appalling and unacceptable. Leprino Foods Company prides itself in providing an uncompromising commitment to high-quality real cheese, and the milk must be supplied to us by farmers who share our commitment to the highest level of animal health and wellness."
At a Wednesday news conference in Denver, Mercy For Animals called on Leprino Foods to "immediately adopt meaningful animal welfare guidelines," a safe and clean environment for cattle and to install video monitoring systems that livestream to the Internet to "help deter abuse at its dairy suppliers."
"Due to the company's complete lack of animal welfare policies and guidelines for suppliers, Leprino Foods allowed a culture of cruelty and neglect to fester at this dairy factory farm," said Matt Rice, Director of Investigations for Mercy for Animals.
After the animal rights group provided video documenting the animal abuse to the New Mexico Livestock Board, it launched an investigation into Winchester Dairy.
Winchester Dairy issued this statement:
Animal care and well-being is central to our operations. Upon reviewing the footage of the animal abuse at our farm, Winchester immediately initiated an internal investigation and, in response, have:
• Terminated all employees and referred the abusive employees to law enforcement for further review;
• Dispersed the farm’s dairy cows to other dairy farms with strong track records in animal welfare within hours of the video being received;
Meanwhile, New Mexico Livestock Board Executive Director Ray Baca said with the cooperation of the diary, "we've identified all of the players that are shown on the video by name." Investigators plan to soon sit down with the undercover activist who shot the dairy video.
Baca said investigators are also trying to locate the former dairy workers identified as abusers. The livestock board will present its investigation findings to the Chaves County District Attorney's Office, which will decide whether or not to file any charges.