Haywood dairy farm comes under fire from PETA

By Vicki Hyatt | Aug 12, 2014

A Clyde dairy farm has captured widespread attention after video footage was released by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Dan Paden, evidence analysis manager for PETA, said the organization was tipped off about the practices used on the Osborne dairy farm outside Clyde, and obtained video footage about the actual conditions last week.

“The person requested anonymity and we abide by that,” Paden said of the tipster.

The photographs and video can be found on the PETA website at http://petaav.com/4broadcast/harris_teeter_supplier/index.html and were obtained legally, he said.

He noted the truck picking up the milk on the farm was followed to a Hickory company, Piedmont Milk Sales, and said the company publicly acknowledges it only supplies its products to Harris Teeter groceries — a claim the regional grocer is demanding be retracted.

The PETA news release not only had harsh words about the regional grocer, but called on them to reassess its relationship with Osborne Farm and examine practices at every farm from which they source milk.

It was an accusation the grocer denied.

“Harris Teeter has verified with its supplier, Piedmont Milk Producers, that we do not receive milk from Osborne Dairy Farm. We will be asking PETA to issue a retraction immediately,” the company said in a prepared news release.

"We receive our Harris Teeter branded milk from cooperatives which participate in the National Dairy FARM program, and we acknowledge our responsibility to engage and educate our suppliers about our preference to source from those who follow sustainable practices and ensure humane treatment and living conditions for animals.  We believe in transparency around animal welfare issues, and we strongly encourage all of our dairy suppliers to proactively participate in and adhere to or exceed the best practices as outlined in the National Dairy FARM program."

Both the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Department of Agriculture have opened investigations into the situation, the PETA news release stated.

“We hope these agencies, along with Haywood County animal services will work together to ensure that adequate care is urgently provided to those cows,” Paden said, “and that this cruel mess is cleaned up as soon as it can be.”

Paden said PETA is not only concerned about the welfare of the animals in the video.

“This certainly presents a food safety threat,” he said. “Even if it were to be sanitized, there’s a concern that some of those animals would be diseased living in those conditions.”

Atypical operation

The news release made the following assessment of the dairy cows on the Osborne farm.

“The video shows that the farm's waste pit has not been emptied for so long that the manure in it has hardened, with excess waste so high that the cows must wade through it up to their knees. It splats onto the cows' udders just before they are milked and has left the animals — some of whom also suffer from emaciation and lameness — with skin ulcers and painful hoof ailments. Flies swarm around the cows, who stand in the waste while eating.”

It’s a situation that Tony McGaha, Haywood County Extension livestock specialist, said certainly isn’t the norm in dairy operations.

“There is certainly a problem with the waste situation,” McGaha said. “The waste structure is a covered structure that seems to be very, very full and backed up. I don’t know what the waste management plan calls for, but there is some sort of problem right now.”

McGaha said while the waste situation shown in the PETA photos indicates there is a problem, the cattle appeared to be in good condition.

“I saw no evidence of emaciated condition based on the video,” he said. “In a dairy cow, you will see the hook bones and hip bones if she’s milking. As far as fly control, if you have manure, you will have flies. If the manure had been scraped out of the alley ways, it would be no different from any other dairy farm.”

McGaha said he would like to know more about the situation before making additional comments.

“There is always more than one side to the story. There seems to be a problem, and we don’t know what caused it to come about. When I visited the farm, there was not a backup,” he said noting his last visit there was last fall.

Steve Washburn, an Extension specialist with N.C. State University’s dairy science department, agreed the dairy cows appeared to be in good condition.

“Weather conditions may have prevented the manure from being spread,” he said. “There may be details we don’t know right now. It is not typical for farms to have cows standing in manure like that.”

Still, it is unlikely the milk from the animals would pose a threat to human health, Washburn said.

“The dairy industry is highly regulated and milk is routinely tested for quality and contaminants,” he said.

In addition, the tests would indicate whether an animal has udder disease or if antibiotics have been used and are showing up in the milk supply.

“Should that happen, the milk is rejected and doesn’t go into the human food chain,” he added.

None of the state regulatory agencies that PETA said were investigating the situation returned calls by press deadline.

McGaha said the outlook for Osborne Farms appears bleak.

"Anytime you have evidence of something like this, it isn't good," he said.

Osborne could not be reached for comment.