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Dairy farm linked to Burger King, In-N-Out accused of animal abuse

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An Idaho dairy farm linked to Burger King, In-N-Out and other food companies has been accused by an animal rights group of “some of the most abusive treatment of animals” it had ever seen.

Undercover video footage (warning: images may be disturbing) provided by Mercy For Animals shows employees at Bettencourt Dairies, which has more than 60,000 cows, stomping on and beating cattle, twisting their tails and using a tractor to drag one animal by its chained neck.

The Murtaugh, Idaho, dairy works with cheese producers and suppliers, which in turn have deals with fast-food chains. Burger King said in a statement that it had suspended its indirect relationship with the dairy.

Mercy for Animals also alerted authorities at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Three Bettencourt workers now face misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, which were filed in August, according to Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant P. Loebs.

One worker, Jesus Garza, has been arraigned, Loebs said, while authorities have warrants out for another worker and a “low-level manager.”

Each of the three faces a fine of up to $5,000 and up to six months of jail time.

“The dairyman who owns this dairy has done absolutely nothing to encourage this,” Loebs said. “He has been 100% cooperative. He basically shut his dairy down to allow the police to search the facility and interview his employees.”

Bettencourt owners Luis and Sharon Bettencourt said in a statement that they were “appalled” at the images in the video. Immediately after being told by authorities about the allegations and viewing the video, the Bettencourts fired all five workers seen in the footage, they said.

The Bettencourts said they made changes to their facilities’ video monitoring, on-site security and signage.

“We feel it is our ethical and moral responsibility to take the best care possible of our cows,” the Bettencourts said in their statement. “Because of our commitment to our dairy herd, animal abuse or misuse has a zero tolerance policy and is dealt with as swiftly as possible.”

All dairy employees were required to watch the video and to sign and acknowledge the animal treatment policy, according to the statement.

Mercy for Animals is also asking Burger King to adopt new animal welfare guidelines that, in part, shun suppliers who allow “painful and unnecessary mutilations of animals” and require a good environment for cattle.  

“We take this matter very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “Burger King Worldwide does not tolerate or condone cruelty to animals. As part of our animal welfare commitment, we require that all suppliers and their vendors adhere to our vendor code of ethics.”

Burger King said Bettencourt “may be an indirect supplier of a small percentage of cheese products to Burger King restaurants in the U.S.” The company said it has launched an “immediate investigation.”

“The portrayal of the Burger King brand in this attack is irresponsible and does not accurately reflect the company’s commitment and actions on issues relating to animal welfare,” the company said.

In-N-Out also released a statement, in which Mark Taylor, its chief operating officer, called the actions in the video “shocking and completely unacceptable.”

“In-N-Out Burger never has and never will condone such inhumane treatment of animals,” Taylor said.

The Irvine burger company said it has “no contractual relationship” with Bettencourt and instead buys cheese from an international cheese supplier based in Wisconsin.

The supplier buys cheese from a bulk cheese manufacturer that uses milk from Bettencourt, according to Taylor.

“We will take appropriate action, up to and including termination of a supplier if we determine that any business in our chain of supply has failed to meet our requirements,” the In-N-Out statement said.

Wendy’s also said it was “appalled” by the video, according to a company statement. The fast food chain said it has a similar relationship with Bettencourt to In-N-Out's. 

“We have instructed Wendy’s supplier to disassociate with Bettencourt immediately,” the company said.

[Updated, Oct. 11, 10:15 a.m.: The restaurant chains said they were told about the video and allegations late Monday. MFA said it had an undercover investigator at the dairy facility from July 29 through August 17.

The animal advocacy group contacted authorities next and said it waited to release the video publicly “in order to give law enforcement and the Idaho Department of Agriculture ample time to complete its investigation.”]

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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