Dairy Operators Improve Hiring Process after Animal Abuse Claim

By Michael Klazema on 2/28/2013

After the release of the hidden camera footage of dairy farm employees abusing cows, Idaho dairy employers are working swiftly to improve their hiring and application process.

The footage showed a cow being dragged out of a barn with a chain around its neck, workers beating cows with a can while the animals slipped on wet concrete, and workers punching and jumping on cows that had fallen between metal bars. The video was filmed at the Luis Bettencourt dairy operation and caused violent reactions from animal rights advocates and the press. Three months after the footage surfaced, diary operators across Idaho are performing more in-depth background checks of their employees and providing proper training and practices for new hires.

Many of the larger dairy employers had already installed video cameras across their dairies to prevent potential animal cruelty cases. The focus now is providing the industry with better employees. The Dairymen's Association has partnered with the University of Idaho's extension office to launch an animal care practices certification program for all potential dairy employees. This program was already being drafted prior to the footage, but it has since received much greater pressure to launch. Employers are also working to improve employee contracts to outline what practices were not going to be tolerated in dairies. Mercy for Animals has also laid out demands to companies like Burger King and Kraft to implement meaningful animal welfare guidelines to prevent future abuse. Both companies have commented that they condemn all forms of animal abuse and that should further investigation turn up similar abuse, they would sever ties with those dairy operators.

Luis Bettencourt, owner of the Dry Creek Dairy whose operation spawned the footage, fired the hands responsible for the abuse and brought them to court. One former employee has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal abuse and another two have warrants out for their arrest on animal cruelty charges. Aside from installing video cameras throughout the facilities to prevent future abuse, Bettencourt also had employees sign a contract stating actions seen in the video were unacceptable. Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, the organization that shot the footage, stated, "Unfortunately, it's too little too late. Bettencourt allowed a culture of cruelty and neglect to flourish for far too long." Bettencourt's farm is the fourth organization that Rice has filmed and the fourth where problems were discovered. According to Bob Naerebout, head of Idaho's Dairymen Association, the abuse footage is atypical. However, he does believe that the controversy is a learning opportunity for state's dairy farms and that they should call for stricter background checks for new and even current employees. Many of these large dairies employ over 500 people at any given time, and it is impossible for dairy operators to be on premise all the time. These recent videos have forced many large companies to investigate their own dairy producers and implement their own animal-welfare standards.

Although dairies may not think that past crimes would show a tendency for a potential worker to be violent against their cows, it could most certainly show them a pattern for violent behavior. With a thorough screening from, these companies could discover violent crimes with a quick check of the US OneSEARCH tool, which access databases nationwide. It would also be a good idea to look into their work history with a Past Employment Verification to make sure they really have the right experience, credentials and references to work in this line of business.

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