Animal abuse video shines negative light on Ohio dairy industry

On May 25, the animal rights group Mercy For Animals (MFA) released hidden video taken from Conklin Dairy Farms Inc., near Plain City that showed alleged abuse of the farm’s dairy animals. Graphic video shows animals on the Union County farm being beaten with crowbars, stabbed with pitchforks and punched in the head.

Nathan Runkle, MFA executive director, said the cow video was shot between April 28 and May 23 by an undercover worker at the dairy, about 25 miles northwest of Columbus. The group presented the video and the evidence it collected to the prosecutor’s office in Marysville.

The vast majority of the footage shows former Conklin employee Billy Joe Gregg Jr., 25, of Delaware County, who was fired by the farm the day after the video was released. Gregg was subsequently arrested and charged with 12 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. He faces up to a $750 fine and 90 days in jail on each charge, if convicted.

In his initial court appearance, Gregg told Marysville Municipal Judge Mike Grigsby that he needed to be out of jail, in part, so he could care for his own animals. Grigsby set Gregg’s bond at $100,000 and said if Gregg does get out of jail, he can’t have any contact with animals.

On the group’s Web site, MFA characterizes the actions on the video as an “ongoing pattern of abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms.” The abuse seen on the video is painted as commonplace among U.S. livestock farms, and consumers are urged to reject dairy and other animal products and adopt a vegan diet.

In reality, livestock producers and producer groups were as shocked as anyone else about the isolated abuse documented at the Conklin farm and firmly condemned the actions.

“Ohio’s dairy farmers are firmly committed to responsible care of our cows and calves and to ensuring their complete well-being at all times. The willful abuse of the animals shown in the video footage is clearly unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” said Jenny Hubble, vice president, communications, for the Ohio Dairy Producers Association/American Dairy Association Mideast (ODPA/ADA).

“Furthermore, the actions shown in the footage absolutely do not reflect how Ohio’s dairy farmers as a whole care for their cows and calves,” Hubble said. “Our farmers have a moral and ethical obligation to provide excellent care of our herds every day, and they do so, because it is the right thing to do and it ensures they can continue to produce safe, wholesome, quality milk and dairy foods.

In a released statement, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) said: “The gratuitous cruelty exhibited in this video is incomprehensible to anyone who is devoted to caring for farm animals. Clearly, the intent of this employee’s actions was nothing short of torture and the severity of his acts calls out for punishment.”

Concern was expressed over how the footage may be used to influence Ohio voters with the Humane Society of the United States waging a campaign to put a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot to require certain reforms, including animal-confinement standards.

“We are also concerned that this incident will be manipulated for political gain by animal rights activists,” the OFBF statement said. “Any attempt to portray these horrific acts as commonplace on Ohio farms would be deceitful. Farmers take care of their livestock because it’s what decent people do, and because comfortable animals are productive animals.”

Others questioned MFA’s handling of the situation and called for authorities to examine all aspects of the incident.

“What is as reprehensible as the depictions in the video is Mercy for Animals’ failure to immediately report this activity. Instead it waited nearly a month watching these animals being abused,” said Ohioans for Livestock Care spokesperson Keith Stimpert, “It is clear their agenda wasn’t protecting animals. Instead it was self-promotion at the expense of those cows and calves.

“We hope that as part of its investigation local authorities will seek to determine whether Mercy for Animals in any way encouraged this activity and was in fact an accessory to animal cruelty,” Stimpert said.

A statement released by Conklin Dairy Farms on May 25 describes the farm as a fourth-generation family operation that takes the care of its cows and calves very seriously.

“The video shows animal care that is clearly inconsistent with the high standards we set for our farm and its workers, and we find the specific mistreatment shown on the video to be reprehensible and unacceptable,” said Gary Conklin. “We will not condone animal abuse on our farm.”

The farm said it would interview its farm workers, and anyone found to have willfully abused the cows or calves would be fired.

“We are cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities overseeing this situation,” Conklin said in the statement. “Further, our farm will institute immediate retraining of all those who remain on the farm and who work with our animals. The trust of our customers in the way we operate our farm, care for our herds and produce quality, safe milk is of critical importance to us, and we will work to maintain that trust as we address this issue.”

However, as a result of the incident, Minerva Farms, where Conklin Dairy Farms markets its milk, chose to cut ties with the operation. At press time, authorities were still investigating the situation, and Gregg was scheduled to be back in court June 10 to enter a plea to the charges against him.

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