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Undercover video shows alleged abuse at dairy farm

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Undercover video shows alleged abuse at dairy farm
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We want to warn you that this story features some graphic video. It was taken between December of 2008 and February of 2009 at a Cayuga County dairy farm. The footage, which shows alleged abuse at a dairy farm, has already prompted legislative action. Our Karen Lee reports.

CAYUGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- For seven weeks, a man working for animal rights group, Mercy for Animals, captured images like these with his pin-hole camera. He pretended to be a maintenance worker for Willet Dairy. It's the largest dairy farm in Cayuga County and distributes all over the country.

In one instance, an employee strikes a cow in his head with a wrench. In another clip, a worker describes how he punched and stomped on a cow.

"Factory farming industry, as you've seen in this footage, has blatant cruelty that most people are unaware of. Workers punching and kicking animals, digging their fingers into their eyes to restrain young animals," said Matt Rice, a Mercy for Animals campaign coordinator.

Lynn O'Dell, the owner of Willet Dairy, is out of the country, but this is what he told ABC's Brian Ross.

"I'm disappointed because I think what they've done is pick a few isolated incidents and I think they're trying to portray that as malicious on our part," said O'Dell.

"These are very isolated clips of video from a farm that operates 365 days a year with a large work force. I'm sure that it's not common practice on that dairy. It's not common practice for any of our dairies to treat animals in that matter," said Kathy Finnerty, the New York State Cattle Health Assurance program manager.

The area that's triggered the most shock is when an employee cuts off a cow's tail. It's called tail-docking and farmers do it because they say it keeps cows cleaner and in turn yields better milk quality.

"The evidence is equivocal whether there is a benefit or not. There is not strong evidence that it does indeed do those things," said John Huntley, the New York state veterinarian.

Tail-docking is widely practiced. The concern in this video, however, is that no anesthetics were used. Huntley says three points need to be met for proper tail-docking. It must be done to a calf, anesthetics must be used and a veterinarian should have been consulted.

Those precautions are still not enough for some. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, introduced legislation last week to outlaw tail-docking.

"This is banned in California, it's not allowed in New Jersey. It's banned in the Netherlands, in the U.K., in Europe, there's no reason for civilized state and country to allow this sort of practice that hurts the cattle and confers no benefits on them," said Rosenthal in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, the case is being investigated by the Finger Lakes SPCA. The Cayuga County District Attorney said in a statement that if the SPCA finds evidence against Willet, then he'll prosecute.

Statement from Cayuga County District Attorney

The Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office was presented with a complaint about alleged abuse and neglect of dairy cattle at Willett Dairy Farm. The information was presented to us in August 2009 by a group of concerned civilians out of Chicago, Illinois.

Many of the practices shown in the edited videotapes presented by the advocacy group are commonly accepted practices used to protect both animals and farmers on large dairy farms such as Willett Dairy Farm. According to ABC World News website as much as 80% of the dairy industry engages in tail docking.

While shocking to look at, these practices are not necessarily illegal. The allegations made that cattle were being neglected or abused required further investigation by law enforcement to determine whether charges could be filed or prosecuted under NY law.

The complaint was turned over to the SPCA September 1, 2009. SPCA is the agency in this County designated to investigate animal abuse and neglect complaints, and their investigation is not yet completed. If their investigation develops evidence that establishes that NY laws have been violated, and the SPCA files charges, we will prosecute anyone so charged.

Jon Budelmann
Cayuga County District Attorney

Statement from Willet Dairy

The dairy industry is a highly regulated industry. Willet Dairy has been the subject of numerous state and federal inspections, including a recent four-day inspection. Each time the regulators reach the same conclusion - Willet Dairy is in compliance with federal and state laws and is an example for other farms. Willet Dairy has complied with every local, state and federal regulation and has a right to operate their business, like every other local business, as long as they abide by the law.

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