After several appeals by the animal-rights organization Animal Outlook over four years, one major dairy producer finally faces justice. Former Nestle supplier, Martin Farms, faces dozens of charges for incidents of animal cruelty. The Superior Court ordered Pennsylvania’s D.A. to prosecute after earlier rulings from the D.A. and overturned a lower court.
A 2018 undercover investigation by Erin Wing, Animal Outlook’s deputy director of investigation, uncovered appalling abuses at the Pennsylvania farm. Video footage shows fatigued cows being dragged by tractors, workers stomping and punching sick cows to make them move faster, excessive shocking, tail pulling, and spraying scalding water in the cows’ faces.
One video shows a farm manager shooting a cow in the head, then waiting a full minute as the still conscious cow suffered before delivering a fatal blow. Another video shows a manager stabbing a cow in the stomach in a botched attempt to treat an ailment without anesthesia or veterinarian assistance.
Workers were also documented slaughtering downed cows and giving the flesh, packed in trash bags, to coworkers. Wing made this statement regarding her time undercover at Martin Farms. “Since the end of my investigation of Martin Farms in 2018, the images of routine cruelty and violence I witnessed there have been burned into my memory.”
Animal Outlook first filed its claims against Martin Farms in 2019, presenting its list of 327 incidents of cruelty and neglect to the D.A. Despite the documentation submitted, the DA declined to prosecute. Animal Outlook then petitioned a lower court to reverse the decision but dismissed the complaint in 2021. The following appeal went to the Superior Court who reversed the decision, stating that the trial court “committed multiple errors of law” and its decision was based on a “handpicked few of the alleged instances of abuse.”
Some of the abuses witnessed are considered routine practices in the dairy industry, such as dehorning. Dehorning is accomplished by applying a hot iron to a calf’s head. The dehorning process does not include anesthesia or pain medication. Around 94% of the dairy industry engages in this practice.
The appellate Court took a particular interest in this practice, stating in its ruling, “The most obvious evidence overlooked by the trial court was that concerning the dehorning of calves. Given the extreme agonizing reaction of the young animals to having a hot iron applied to their heads for an excessive amount of time without anesthesia beforehand or pain relief afterwards, a fact finder could conclude that the perpetrators of the dehorning grossly deviated from how a reasonable person would proceed and disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that he or she would cause severe and prolonged pain to the animals.”
The Pennsylvania case reveals problems in the entire U.S. agricultural system. The hope is this case will set a precedent for future cases and future industry practices and standards while holding the industry accountable. Punishments in the Pennsylvania case could include fines or even jail time.
According to Will Lowrey, legal counsel for Animal Outlook: “We have never doubted that the cruelty and neglect revealed by our investigation is squarely within the scope of conduct prohibited by Pennsylvania law, and that includes so-called standard practices. We have long believed that if we were given access to fair and thorough process under the law, this cruelty would be recognized. We’re grateful that the Superior Court did just that here, thoughtfully considering the weight of evidence from our investigation that confirmed Martin Farms’ conduct violated Pennsylvania’s animal protection laws. The Court’s ruling sends a clear message that animals used in agriculture are worthy of protection.”