A Morgan County, Colorado, dairy farm is at the center of an animal abuse investigation following the release of a video showing workers punching and stabbing dairy cattle.
Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone has yet to press criminal charges against workers shown in the videos, but says he’s working with the farm’s owners Jim and Marie Goedert to locate current and former employees. In a statement, the Goederts say they’ve taken disciplinary action against the employees involved.
The videos, recorded by an undercover investigator with Los Angeles-based group Mercy for Animals, allegedly shows employees at Cactus Acres Holsteins kicking the animals in their heads and udders, stabbing cows with screw drivers and violently pulling their tails.
Law enforcement are currently combing through the more than 300 hours of video recorded at the farm, which Mercy For Animals handed over in May, Crone says. But the actions may not yield any criminal charges.
“It may look inhumane and it may look like bad business practice, but it might not cross a line into criminal activity,” Crone says.
Mercy For Animals wants more than just criminal charges against the workers. The group, which previously released videos documenting abuse at a Colorado hog farm, said in a release they expect Dairy Farmers of America to tighten rules for its member farms. Cactus Acres is a member of the Kansas City-based cooperative.
“We are also calling on Dairy Farmers of America to immediately adopt meaningful animal welfare guidelines and oversight for all of its member farms,” the group’s statement reads. “As a national milk marketing cooperative with nearly 15,000 member farms, Dairy Farmers of America has not only the power, but also the responsibility to end many of the worst forms of animal abuse in the dairy industry.”
For its part, Dairy Farmers of America tried to get out in front of the video release from Mercy for Animals, sending out a release days before the animal rights group made its recordings public, in which the group says “animal abuse in the dairy industry is not tolerated.” Following an audit, the cooperative placed Cactus Acres on probation while the farm works on its policies regarding animal treatment and personnel.
The conversation about farm animal abuse has shifted. There seems to be little disagreement that, yes, animals are sometimes harmed on farms, but massive rifts remain in how quickly the people who witness it should report it to law enforcement.
Those rifts have led to state laws colloquially known as “ag-gag laws” which criminalize video or photographic documentation of farms with the intent to cause harm to the operation. Other ag-gag laws force workers to report animal cruelty within a specific time frame, 24 or 48 hours, which puts a hamper on the edited, produced video released from organizations like Mercy For Animals.
“We couldn’t believe that someone who we hired as a milker and trusted to do the right thing and care for our cows would act so contrary to our values,” said farm owner Marie Goedert of the Mercy For Animals undercover investigator, Jessica Buck. “Why not bring these concerns to our attention immediately?”
Mercy For Animals says it quickly turned over videos at Cactus Acres to law enforcement once it had enough evidence to show criminal activity.
Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa and Utah are among that states that limit reporting on agricultural operations. A bill in Colorado’s 2015 state legislative session would have created a reporting mandate for animal cruelty, requiring any animal cruelty to be reported within a 48 hour period. But it was tabled.
Ag-gag laws in Idaho and Utah are currently the subject of federal lawsuits.