Four workers at a Wisconsin dairy farm that is in the supply chain for DiGiorno's Pizza were charged with 11 counts of criminal animal cruelty, following the release of an undercover video shot by animal rights group Mercy for Animals depicting brutal treatment of cows.
The video, shot last fall by an undercover investigator working for Mercy for Animals, shows the farm workers beating, kicking, whipping, prodding and dragging cows at Wiese Brothers Farms in Greenleaf, Wisconsin. The video, which was released in December, also shows the workers dragging the cows with heavy farm equipment as well as cows with open wounds housed in unsanitary conditions.
According to the criminal complaint, Brown County, Wis. prosecutors charged three employees, Abelardo Jaimes, Lucia Martinez, and Misael Monge-Minero each with three counts of intentionally mistreating animals, and another, Crescencio Pineda, with two counts of intentionally mistreating animals. Each count carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and nine months in prison
"We praise law enforcement for taking swift action and pursuing justice for these abused animals," Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy for Animals, told ABC News. "In a civilized society, it is our responsibility to take care of all animals, including ones on a dairy farm."
Rice said Mercy for Animals immediately contacted local authorities following the investigation and turned over the video as well as statements from animal rights activists and veterinarians, including that of Dr. Temple Grandin.
Digiorno cut its ties with the supplier last December, and Hannah Coan, a spokesperson for Nestle, which owns DiGiorno, told ABC News today that the company has added a new layer of audits that reaches farther down its supply chain following the release of the video.
"In January we launched a new strenuous audit program in the U.S. that targets our direct supplies as well as others who do business with or provide ingredients to our direct suppliers. This includes third-party, in-person audits of our U.S. dairy supply. All companies in our supply chain will be measured against our Nestle Supplier Code and Responsible Sourcing Guidelines, which outline our standards for animal welfare."
At the time of the investigation, Wiese Brothers Farms, outside of Green Bay, was supplying milk to the farming collective Foremost Farms, which in turn supplied cheese to DiGiorno, the largest frozen pizza manufacturer, which is owned by Nestle.
"Nestle believes that animal cruelty is never acceptable – and we recognize our responsibility to do what it takes to eliminate it from our supply chain," Nestle said in a statement. "We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better."
In a statement, Foremost Farms USA, which previously said the company is no longer receiving milk from Wiese Brothers Farms, said the company does not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.
"We believe that any individual who witnesses inappropriate animal treatment is responsible for making every effort to stop that mistreatment immediately. Anyone who mistreats animals must be reported immediately and should be punished in accordance with the law," the statement reads.
After the video was released, Wiese Brothers Farm said in an e-mail that the company was not aware of the abuse and was "shocked and saddened to see a few of our employees not following our farm's policies for proper animal care."
Rice said Mercy for Animals wants to raise awareness of rampant cruelty against farm animals through the site SliceOfCruelty.com.
"No socially responsibly company should support farms that abuse animals," Rice said.