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Corruption and Consumer Fraud at Leading “Humane” Dairy Raise Questions About State of the U.S. Dairy Industry

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A Farm Forward investigation has uncovered ongoing and systematic animal abuse at arguably the nation’s leading Organic, Certified Humane, and “regenerative” dairy, Alexandre Family Farm. Given the many accolades that Alexandre has received, this is one of the most significant cases of humanewashing in the market today and suggests widespread problems throughout the dairy industry. At present, premium dairy producers have failed to provide a real alternative to factory farming. An independent investigation by The Atlantic confirms many of Farm Forward’s findings.

The full story

A living cow being dragged by a skid loader across concrete.

What: Alexandre dairy pursues a business model that ensures that cows routinely suffer egregiously and that diseased animals are sold into the human food supply chain. Most concerningly, animals with treatable diseases and injuries are systematically left to languish, leading to gory wounds and acute suffering.

When: Abuse appears ongoing and likely has been occurring for years.

Why: Treating dairy cows properly often requires the use of antibiotics, but if such treatment is given Alexandre can no longer sell the milk or meat at a premium price. Organic dairy thus incentivizes animal abuse. Other problems appear to be the result of neglect, mistreatment, and mismanagement, perhaps the result of financial pressures common in the dairy industry.

What is in Farm Forward’s report?

The report combines Farm Forward’s own eyewitness accounts and accounts of multiple whistleblowers alongside extensive documentation—including video footage, photographic evidence, ownership documents, a veterinary evaluation from a large animal veterinarian who works in the dairy industry, and a review by leading animal welfare scientist Gail Hanson, DVM. Given Alexandre’s leading reputation in the industry, the report concludes that Alexandre’s failures suggest that decades of industrialization make it nearly impossible for modern dairies to produce their products in line with public expectations for animal welfare.

Read the timeline

What specific abuses were documented?

One thing should be made clear: what this investigation uncovered was not a handful of isolated incidents. Farm Forward reviewed more than a thousand videos and photos, conducted extensive interviews with whistleblowers, and witnessed first-hand conditions on Alexandre farms. What emerged is a massive pattern of systematic business driven from the top down. Documented incidences include:

  • Regular incidences (all left untreated or treated inadequately) of
    • severe lameness and/or foot rot,
    • eye disease and cancer, and
    • disease and/or malnourishment leading to emaciation and poor body condition;
  • A cow dragged by a skid loader more than 50 yards across concrete and gravel;
  • The widespread use of calf hutches—small shelters for baby cows that are widely viewed as inhumane—separating and confining calves for months, leading to the early deaths of more than a dozen calves found on just one day;
  • Sick and injured animals described by a consulting veterinarian as “severely lame” being transported and sold to an auction house;
  • Dozens of cows being trampled to death
  • Using a .22 rifle to kill about 80 heifers experiencing trouble with calving;
  • A cow’s clogged teat cut off with a rusty knife with no pain management;
  • A calf stuck in a stanchion left for three days nearly dies of dehydration;
  • A nonambulatory disabled cow left lying out in the pasture for two weeks before she was shot;
  • A cow so hungry that she fell into a feed trough and suffocated;
  • An objectively severe case of spinal injury, incurred 6–12 months prior, resulting in the cow’s tail paralysis, ataxia, and fecal and urinary incontinence;
  • The cutting of horns through innervated tissue in hundreds of mature cows;
  • A longstanding practice of transporting severely sick, injured, and lame cows to a sales auction instead of treating their illness or euthanizing them on-farm;
  • Hundreds of instances of “treating” cows’ eye infections and cancers by pouring finely ground table salt on the cows’ eyes, and then gluing on an improvised eye patch, often gluing cows’ eyes shut in the process.

What does this investigation tell us about dairy generally?

Not only are these violations of basic humane treatment, many are also violations of the certifications that Alexandre uses to market their products. In other words, certifications like Certified Humane and USDA Organic and claims like “regenerative” fail to ensure proper animal care in the dairy industry. Indeed some of these standards created perverse incentives that encouraged the operation to allow animals to languish and suffer with treatable diseases and injuries. We’re calling on conscientious consumers to rethink their relationship with dairy. If a company widely lauded as “the best of the best” can’t be trusted, what are the chances that the rest of the dairy industry can be?

Read the report

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