Dairymen react strongly to abuse video
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Idaho dairymen say a video showing animal abuse on a Twin Falls County dairy is appalling, completely unacceptable and does not reflect animal-care practices on Idaho's dairies.
It is an isolated incident, but it hurts them personally and harms the image of dairymen, they said.
"This is not typical of what takes place on Idaho dairies. It hurts every one of us to see something like that because we do so many right things," said Mike Roth, president of Idaho Dairymen's Association and co-owner of Si-Ellen and White Clover family dairies.
All dairymen are in agreement that the type of behavior in the video is not allowed, said Buhl dairyman John Brubaker, an IDA board member.
"I don't know a dairyman out there that condones that behavior. We try to produce a wholesome product and maintain a healthy image," he said.
Both dairymen said it's to dairymen's advantage to take good care of their animals; it's their livelihoods, and they work hard at it. Animal care is a huge focus in the industry, they said.
"Obviously, what's demonstrated on this video ... is not tolerated by the industry, IDA and the owner," said Bob Naerebout, IDA executive director.
The dairy's owner, Louis Bettencourt, was extremely disturbed by the behavior in the video, he said.
"These are his animals that people he hired are abusing," he said.
Bettencourt has a policy against such treatment of animals and took immediate steps to address the problem and cooperated fully with the investigation, Naerebout said.
This is not a normal practice on the dairy or any dairy in Idaho and was instead an isolated incident, he said.
"Our goal is to make sure animals are properly cared for on all our dairies," he said.
The video was shot by a member of Mercy for Animals, who worked at Bettencourt's Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen for a few weeks this summer. It shows three, now-former workers beating, stomping and dragging cows in the milking parlor.
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture immediately investigated the incident after being shown the video, and the three workers have been charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
Twin Falls County prosecutor Grant Loebs said Bettencourt has cooperated fully with law enforcement, and investigators don't believe any of the dairy's upper management knew of the mistreatment.
Bettencourt is Idaho's largest dairy operator, with 13 dairies, about 60,000 cows and 500 employees.
The incident is not an indication of neglect by Bettencourt or inadequate management on his dairy, Naerebout, Roth and Brubaker all said.
"I've known Louie Bettencourt for 20 years, and I can't think of anyone who loves his cows more. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and I think this is an example of that," Roth said.
Preventing such abuse in the future comes down to better vetting of employees and posted policy on every dairy that it will not be tolerated, Naerebout said.
IDA does not have a policy on undercover videos, but if the industry can do a better job vetting employees, there is no need to take legislative action on the issue, Naerebout said.
Brubaker said while the industry isn't trying to cover up anything, he doesn't think undercover videos should be allowed. It's an invasion of privacy of the business and could lead to invasion of privacy in producers' homes, he said.
Roth said the industry shouldn't have to depend on undercover videos to show a problem and should police itself. If today's technology allows animal-rights and vegan groups to move their agenda, so be it, but those groups shouldn't have to go there in the first place, he said.
Nonetheless, the practice of posing as an employee to advance an agenda on a producer's time and payroll is dishonest and deceitful, he said.
AP contributed to this story.