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Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013

Cow Abuse Video Highlights the Dangers of Factory Farms

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Only in Wisconsin would the sordid Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal be re-enacted with cows in the role of the victims of abuse.

Remember when California dairy farmers launched a series of television commercials claiming their cows were happier than ours? Now we know it wasn’t just because cows like lying around on beaches and surfing.

Just as a series of leaked photographs exposed CIA and Army personnel torturing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners, a horrendous video by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group, spread far and wide on the Internet prompted public outrage.

The video, shot by one of the group’s members working undercover on the Wiese Brothers Farm in Brown County, showed workers shouting profanities as they viciously beat, whipped, kicked and stabbed injured cows, dragged cows with ropes and chains and dangled bleeding cows in the air with heavy machinery.

It was a public relations nightmare for any company associated with the farm that might want to market its products to decent, feeling members of the public.

That’s why Nestle, owners of DiGiorno, the nation’s top-selling frozen pizza, immediately stopped using Wiese Brothers as a supplier of the milk to make its cheese.

A couple of employees were fired and there’s a remote possibility of legal charges being filed, but don’t hold your breath.

That’s because the second priority of the state’s dairy industry, after publicly expressing how shocked and appalled it was by the disturbing video so many had seen, was to try to convince people they hadn’t really seen what they’d seen.

What looks like inexcusably cruel cow abuse, several dairy farmers explained, actually could have been benevolent attempts to immediately get downed cows back on their feet.

That’s because dairy farmers have to try anything possible to quickly get a 1,500-pound cow back up or the muscles in its legs will turn to mush and it will have to be destroyed.

Besides, they added, Mercy for Animals is some kind of wacko group that promotes veganism. It was just trying to make dairy farmers look bad for its own propaganda purposes.

How diabolical—making dairy farmers look bad by secretly videotaping their workers committing incredible atrocities upon injured animals.

 

Possible Water Contamination

This incident could be a turning point dramatizing once and for all the difference between factory farming and the romantic vision most of us still hold of wholesome, salt-of-the-earth family farming.

Have you ever wondered why when you drive across Wisconsin these days you don’t see all that many cows, happy or otherwise? Instead, you see acres of anonymous, aluminum-sided buildings that look like they could contain all the Napa Auto Parts anybody would ever need.

When the Wiese Brothers milk 5,000 cows three times a day, no one bothers giving those animals names based on their amiable personalities or letting 12-year-olds take them to the Wisconsin State Fair.

It’s a nearly completely robotized system. In fact, those images of employees screaming crude names for female body parts at cows while clubbing and kicking them were rare human moments, albeit ugly ones, in an inhuman process.

The official name of these large factory farms is a dead giveaway for what makes these operations so different and so much more dangerous to all the rest of us than those long-gone happy days down on the farm.

They are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). For most factory farms, the only purpose of the living, breathing animals is to stand side by side in an enclosed pen consuming high-growth feed and transforming it into enormous lagoons of liquid waste.

Of course, in dairy farming, cows perform another important job as well—serving as perpetual milk machines. You’d think that would earn them a little more respect from their handlers instead of being unfairly yelled at for being whores.

Now that farming in Wisconsin has been taken over by corporations instead of slow-talking, old guys in overalls, and their plump, cheery wives who fry chicken and bake pies, it’s important that government write some serious regulations to prevent cow torture and protect the state’s groundwater from being contaminated by oceans of liquid manure.

But it may not surprise you to learn that Gov. Scott Walker, who opposes government regulation of his corporate donors, has cut enforcement of laws affecting factory farms in half even as the number of CAFOs in the state has leaped from 25 to more than 200.

In 2012, the Department of Natural Resources referred only 33 violations to the attorney general for prosecution, far below the already low state average of 65 cases a year for the previous decade.

Even if you don’t really care what happens to cows in this state, you might change your tune one day in the future when you turn the tap and get a nice, big glass of liquid manure.