Authorities have issued a clean bill of health to a New York dairy farm featured in an ABC News investigation about animal abuse, saying that an assessment by experts in the field shows that Willet Dairy exceeds industry standards for hygiene and the treatment of animals.
But the team of experts assigned by the state of New York to assess the dairy included a veterinarian who has worked as a consultant for the dairy.
Authorities also said that a dairy worker seen abusing an animal in the ABC News report had been convicted of animal cruelty, and a second worker who may have abused an animal had fled the area. In addition, the dairy also dropped or changed two different practices seen on undercover video in the ABC News report and considered cruel by animal activists and some veterinarians.
Earlier this month, Nightline won a Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States for "Got Milk?", a report on alleged cruelty at dairy farms. The investigation featured undercover video from Willet Dairy that showed cows being dragged, workers kicking and hitting animals, and a worker digging his fingers into the eye socket of a cow. It also showed tails and horns being removed without apparent anesthesia. An undercover investigator for the advocacy group Mercy for Animals shot the video in 2009 while working at the dairy for two months as a mechanic.
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After the Nightline report aired in 2010, Willet suspended Phil Niles, a worker who can be seen on video striking a cow in the head with a wrench, while Denver-based Leprino Foods, which produces cheese products used by the national pizza chains Pizza Hut, Papa John's and Domino's, stopped using milk from the dairy.
After the Nightline report aired, Willet Dairy asked the New York State Department of Agriculture to assess conditions at the farm. The state sent a team of experts to the dairy in February 2010. The team of five, which included three veterinarians, concluded that the dairy's cattle herd "surpassed the industry standards" set by the state "for hygiene, body condition and lameness, indicating a high level of animal care and welfare."
The team's report also said that Willet's four farms "have excellent veterinary resources to monitor animal health and welfare," and that a veterinarian had instructed workers on how to perform dehorning and tail docking with anesthesia. Tail docking is a controversial process in which the lower portion of a cow's tail is removed, and dehorning or disbudding means removing horns from cattle. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes tail docking, and says if dehorning is performed, anesthesia should be used. The undercover video had shown Willet workers performing the process, apparently without anesthesia.