MFA Willet Dairy Investigation Leads to Criminal Animal Cruelty Conviction

In January of last year, MFA released hidden-camera footage of extreme cruelty to animals documented during an undercover investigation at Willet Dairy, the largest dairy operation in New York, exposing the following abuses perpetrated on a routine basis:

  • Workers burning out the horns and slicing off the tails of calves without anesthesia
  • Cows confined indoors in herds so densely packed or stalls so small that they could not move freely
  • "Downed" cows - those too sick or injured to stand - left to languish for weeks before they died or were killed
  • Workers kicking, punching and electrically shocking cows and calves
  • Cows with debilitating leg injuries, abscesses, open wounds and prolapsed uteruses, many caked with feces
  • Workers injecting cows with a controversial bovine growth hormone used to increase milk production

Just this week, it was announced that MFA's investigation had resulted in a criminal animal cruelty conviction of a longtime Willet Dairy employee, Phil Niles. Niles, who was given free reign by company management to brutalize and torment animals at Willet Dairy for 19 years, was caught on tape bragging about stomping on animals, bashing in the brains of a bull with a 2 by 4 and cracking animals' skulls with wrenches while they were immobilized in headlock devices. But it was only after MFA's investigation that the company and law enforcement officials were forced to bring this animal abuser to justice. Niles was arrested, pled guilty to animal cruelty - a misdemeanor charge - and was ordered to pay $555 and not to have contact with animals for one year.

Willet_Downers_3.jpgThe cruelties uncovered during the Willet investigation were so shocking they generated national headlines, exposing dairy's dark side to millions of Americans on such programs as Nightline and ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer. ABC later won a Genesis Award for its groundbreaking and daring exposé. Following the release of the investigation, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal proposed a statewide ban on tail docking and Leprino Foods, which supplies cheese to Domino's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut, decided to drop Willet Dairy as a milk supplier. Also in response to the investigation, Willet Dairy claims to have ended its practice of tail docking, demonstrating the outdated practice is completely unnecessary, and has begun to use painkillers before burning the budding horns out of the skulls of calves.

Reeling from the fallout of this damning investigation, the dairy industry and the New York Department of Agriculture orchestrated an effort to repair Willet's damaged reputation by coordinating a "team of experts," including Willet Dairy's own consulting veterinarian, to tour the facility and issue statements that the facility "meets or exceeds industry standards." Unfortunately, as this case graphically illustrates, the industry standard is blatant animal abuse. Not a single federal law provides protection to animals during their miserable lives on factory farms, which means the common dairy industry practices of subjecting animals to a lifetime of intensive confinement, cutting off their tails and burning their horns out of their skulls without painkillers, and ripping newborn calves from their mothers' sides is not only completely standard, but legal.

However, compassionate consumers can take immediate action to help end the routine cruelties perpetrated by the dairy industry simply by going vegan.