A lawsuit alleging abuse of dairy cows at a San Jacinto farm, where an animal rights organization claims workers mistreat the bovines as part of their routine, is a “publicity stunt” that is rooted in fiction, an attorney for the defendants said Friday, Oct. 9.
“These folks have been in the dairy business for many generations, starting in Holland centuries ago and coming to America more than 60 years ago,” defense attorney Stephen Larson told City News Service. “They live by the slogan, `Take care of the cows because they take care of us.”’
Last month, the nonprofit CARU Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed a civil complaint in Riverside County Superior Court against the Van Dam Family Dairy on Cottonwood Avenue, listing dozens of alleged acts of inhumane treatment. The suit seeks an injunction against further operation of the farm and the removal of all cows from the property, which would put it out of business.
A status hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 29.
“The abuse and neglect towards cows and calves exposed through the investigation demonstrate this is not just a single employee or incident, but company-wide practices condoned by management,” CARU spokesman Stephen Wells alleged. “The industry wants to keep the truth hidden, because they know the public would not tolerate the conditions animals endure.”
A unidentified volunteer with the nonprofit Animal Outlook got a job at the farm as a milker in September 2019, with the specific intent of documenting alleged abuse of the cows. In the ensuing two months, the woman took photos and video while on the job. She turned the material over to CARU last November and provided statements that were used to initiate the legal action, according to court papers.
None of the photographs submitted in the suit depict cows being hit, bloodied or otherwise tormented. However, the complaint narrative conveys as much.
“The investigation revealed a pattern of widespread abuse and gross neglect,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs allege the farm operators are concerned only with milk production, and anything that slows that down — including a sick newborn calf — is ignored.
The complaint alleges that calves “frequently die” from lack of care. But the thrust of the civil action was oriented to the treatment of the milk cows.
“Employees of Dick Van Dam Dairy twist cows’ tails, kick and punch them, stick their fingers in the cows’ eyes, and find other ways to inflict pain on a daily basis for the purpose of causing the cows to move in and out of the narrow passageways and crowded metal gates of the milking parlor,” the complaint alleges. “The investigator documented dozens of instances of employees jabbing and beating the cows with splintered canes, including in their sensitive udders or faces.”
The suit alleges that “sometimes workers beat animals without any apparent goal,” seemingly for entertainment.
Larson called the allegations “manufactured and completely false.”
“This is one of the cleanest, safest and best run dairy operations you’ll ever find,” the attorney told CNS. “This lawsuit is a publicity stunt, and I can promise you, the suit and the sentiments behind it will be thoroughly discredited. I fully anticipate there will be counter-claims.”
Larson said the Van Dam family has always been transparent and voluntarily participates in audits and inspections conducted under the National Dairy FARM Program.
“The Van Dam Family Dairy always passes with flying colors,” he said. “This is a wonderful family. Their house is right there on the farm. It’s not some distant corporation.”
He addressed several of the allegations directly, saying the calves and cows are checked every few hours, whether they’re in the pasture or a pen.
“Everything that happens is part of life on the farm. Do they have stillborn calves? Yes. But people who don’t live on a farm can easily misinterpret what is happening,” Larson said. “There are 1,500 to 1,600 cows in different stages of life. And every single one of them is inspected.”
He suggested the investigation and complaint were part of a smear campaign and said his clients were being “dragged through the mud.”
“The duplicitous way this is being done is an outrage,” Larson said. “It’s really wrong, and it’s one case I’m really looking forward to.”
The suit is permitted under a provision of the California Corporations Code which allows a nonprofit organization to represent the rights of animals.
-PAUL J. YOUNG – City News Service
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