By Joseph Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - Authorities in New Mexico are investigating a dairy farm in the state after an animal rights group secretly recorded video apparently showing workers punching and kicking cows and stabbing them with screwdrivers.
Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals said the video was captured using a hidden camera in August and September by a member of the group who got a job at the Winchester Dairy, outside the city of Roswell.
Winchester Dairy said it ceased operations and fired some employees after seeing the video. Mercy For Animals said the dairy was a supplier of milk to Denver-based Leprino Foods, the world's largest maker of mozzarella cheese."This is the most egregious example of animal cruelty we have ever seen in the dairy industry," Matt Rice, head of investigations for Mercy For Animals, said on Wednesday.
The video also shows workers apparently whipping cows with chains and metal wires, as well as dragging sick or injured cows behind a tractor while other workers shock the animals in the genitals with electric prods.
The Chaves County Sheriff's Office in Roswell said the New Mexico Livestock Board has been given the video and is investigating the matter.
In a statement provided by a Chicago-based public relations firm, Winchester Dairy said "animal care and well-being is central to our operations."
It said that upon reviewing the footage it launched an internal investigation, immediately closed the farm, terminated the employees and referred the 11 "most abusive" employees to law enforcement for further review.
It said the farm's cows were sent to other dairy farms "with strong track records in animal welfare" within hours of the video being received, and that it stopped shipment of the farm's milk to all vendors effective immediately.
Mercy For Animals called on Leprino Foods to adopt meaningful animal welfare guidelines, including the installation of video monitoring systems that livestream farm conditions online to help deter abuse. Leprino Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Will Dunham)