I recently worked undercover for Compassion Over Killing (now known as Animal Outlook) inside a massive Pennsylvania dairy factory. Instead of the frolicking “happy cows” we are shown in dairy commercials, at Martin Farms I documented extreme violence toward defenseless baby calves and mother cows, treated as nothing more than milk-producing machines—violence that was more horrific than anything I’d ever seen before. COK was determined to find out how this cruelty was making its way to American consumers—so we followed a truck carrying Martin Farms’ miserable milk straight to one of the world’s largest ice cream plants, churning out Dreyer’s, Edy’s, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream for the world's largest food and dairy company: Nestlé.
On this filthy, crowded factory farm, I saw workers hoist cows who were unable to walk or stand by their hips with metal clamps and drag them by tractor. A manager shot one “downer” cow in the head, and she remained conscious for almost a minute before the fatal shot. I will never forget the screams I heard as this manager sadistically stabbed a cow over and over with a sharp instrument in a botched attempt to supposedly treat a stomach ailment—without any sedation or pain relief.
Every day at Martin Farms was like a living nightmare. Some “downer” cows were killed and butchered on site, their meat distributed to workers in garbage bags. Others were sprayed in the face with scalding hot water, kicked, stomped on, or hit by workers, and cows with prolapsed uteruses and open sores were denied even basic veterinary care. One cow had her teat sliced off.
When alerted to the abuse I documented, Nestlé responded that it immediately severed ties with Martin Farms. However, the company has still failed to address the systemic nature of the issues our investigation uncovered.
What I captured on video at Martin Farms exposes brutal yet everyday practices that can be seen inside dairy farms across the country: bloody hoof trimming; the heartbreaking separation of day-old calves from their loving mothers; and hot irons being burned into calves’ flesh to permanently destroy their horns and growth tissue in a cruel process known as “dehorning” or “disbudding,” used at 94% of US dairies. At Martin Farms, calves are tied up as a red-hot iron is pressed down on the sensitive nerves in their heads for several minutes—without any pain relief.
Veterinary expert Dr. Holly Cheever called my footage of this gruesome dehorning and disbudding “a glaring example of dairy mismanagement that results in cruelty” and concluded that the “calves are in agonizing pain, shown by their violent thrashing and bellowing.”
Investigations like mine and COK’s 2017 footage from another Pennsylvania dairy farm show just how common cruelty is in this industry. That’s why we are urging Nestlé to step up as an industry leader rather than attempt to simply wash its hands clean of the abuse caught on hidden camera on this one farm.
To most of the dairy industry, painful horn removal is considered “standard practice”—the hidden price of producing cheap milk for millions of consumers. But in 2014, Nestlé announced an animal welfare policy that was lauded as one of the most progressive of its time, including a commitment to eliminate dehorning of older calves entirely, as well as ending the painful removal of horn tissue of younger calves (disbudding) without anesthesia. Yet the manufacturing giant aimed for only 80 percent compliance in its supply chain by 2020—a full six years after issuing this commitment.
Even with an anesthetic, studies have found that these vulnerable young calves, often only weeks old, respond with elevated stress hormones once the medications wear off. And the excruciating pain from having their sensitive horns and horn tissue burned from their heads can last days or even weeks.
Farms could prevent this terrifying mutilation entirely by choosing cows who do not grow horns, as has been recommended by both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners. But the dairy industry is dragging its feet, with only 2 percent of farms making the switch. As the world’s largest food and dairy company, Nestlé has the ability—and the responsibility—to implement immediate systemic changes to push the dairy industry forward by eliminating the cruel removal of calves’ horns and horn tissue for its products once and for all.
The dairy industry’s profits depend on a cycle of cruelty: Like all mammals, in order to produce milk, a cow must have recently given birth. Female cows are repeatedly forcibly impregnated and have their day-old babies ripped from their side so that their milk can be used for humans.
After spending years mired in their own waste and suffering routine abuse, their 20-year natural lifespan is cut short when their exhausted, depleted bodies are no longer considered useful and they are sent to slaughter for beef, largely low-grade meat like hamburger, at just five years old. And their calves fare no better: Males often spend several months confined to a crate or tiny pen before being slaughtered for veal, while females endure the same suffering as their mothers.
Millions of consumers are discovering the best way we can spare gentle cows from abuse in the dairy industry: keeping the milk they produce for their babies out of our shopping carts. In response to this surging demand, The Economist recently named 2019 the “year of the vegan.” Non-dairy milks already comprise 13 percent of total milk sales, and the market for plant-based milk products is projected to double in size over the next four years to $30 billion in 2023.
As droves of conscious consumers choose vegan food, Nestlé can no longer afford to play a passive role with just an occasional new vegan product launch. If the food giant truly wants to maintain its role as a global food leader, it must help pave the way for the plant-based revolution by shifting its supply chain significantly toward vegan ingredients.
Please join me today in urging Nestlé to take a slice out of milk’s misery by immediately ending the gruesome and unnecessary disbudding and dehorning of calves in its supply chain—and churning out more vegan products, starting with dairy-free Dreyer’s and vegan Edy’s ice cream.
Undercover Investigator, Compassion Over Killing
P.S. The easiest way you can protect cows, and all animals, from this abuse is to try healthy and delicious vegan eating. Click here to get started!