Farm with big pizza connections accused of animal abuse

September 17, 2014, 5:18 PM UTC
Pizza Hut
Signage is displayed outside a Pizza Hut restaurant, a unit of Yum! Brands Inc., in Torrance, California, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. Yum! Brands Inc. is scheduled to release earnings data on Oct. 8. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon — Bloomberg/Getty Images

A dairy that provides milk to Denver-base Leprino Foods has been accused of animal abuse — and has at least temporarily shut down.

Mercy For Animals, an animal protection group that regularly conducts undercover investigations, had a member get hired as part of the barn crew at Winchester Dairy, located near Roswell, N.M. He documented workers kicking and punching cows, shocking the animals in their genitals and other abuses.

Leprino Foods provides cheese to several national pizza chains, including Domino’s (DPZ), Papa John’s (PZZA) and Pizza Hut, which is owned by Yum Brands (YUM).

Domino’s Vice President of Communications, Tim Mcintyre, condemned the acts seen in the video, but said they weren’t indicative of the attitudes of Leprino Foods.

“No act of cruelty can ever be condoned. Ever,” he said in an e-mail. “What we do know is that this is not an issue with our cheese supplier — it was an isolated case of sadistic acts by employees at a single dairy farm in southern New Mexico.”

None of the pizza chains, nor Leprino, immediately responded to requests for comment.

The New Mexico Livestock Board is currently investigating the allegations, said director Ray Baca. He said that as far as he knows the farm is currently shut down, and declined to say when he thought the investigation would be complete. He did note that Winchester Dairy is cooperating with the board, helping to locate those in the videos.

Rice said the goal isn’t just for Leprino to change practices on this farm, but to institute “meaningful” changes to its animal welfare practices across the board. He said Mercy for Animals hasn’t heard anything from Leprino yet.

The Winchester Dairy has 4,000 cows — 3,000 of which are milked each day — and processes between 30,000 and 40,000 gallons of milk a day. Rice said it is believed that around 80% of shipments go to the Leprino processing plant located nearby.

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