As the nation's top fast-food chains continue to suffer the effects of an expired meat scandal in China, a new scandal has emerged closer to home.
An animal welfare group has released a video of workers abusing cows at a New Mexico dairy farm that supplies Leprino Foods with milk. Leprino is the world's largest mozzarella cheese provider, with customers including pizza chains including Domino's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut.
The graphic video can be found here, but be warned – it is not an easy viewing session. Workers at Winchester Dairy are shown violently kicking and whipping cows, as well as dragging them with heavy machinery and stabbing them with screwdrivers.
Following the release of the video by animal rights organization Mercy for Animals, New Mexico Livestock Board launched an investigation of Winchester Dairy. Leprino has terminated its shipments from the farm, and Winchester Dairy says that it has already terminated all employees at the farm, referred abusive employees to law enforcement and dispersed the cows to other farms with strong records in animal welfare.
"We take these situations extremely seriously and are extremely repulsed by these events," reads a Leprino statement released on Wednesday. "This isolated incident does not reflect the daily care and comfort that New Mexico dairy farmers provide their cows."
Domino's has responded similarly. "The individual family dairy farms throughout the country - 47,000 of them – and the brands who buy and sell cheese are being painted in a horrible light due to the horrendous acts of a small group of individuals," says Domino's spokesperson Tim McIntyre. "A few sick people - whom we hope are prosecuted - do not represent the thousands of innocent people earning a living for their families, whether they work on farms, in cheese production, or in pizza shops.”
Pizza Hut and Papa John's did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the dairy industry has attributed the abuse to a few bad apples, animal rights activists are attempting to frame the video as representative of the plight of cows across the industry.
"Treated as mere milk-producing machines, cows exploited and killed for milk and cheese endure lives of near constant misery and deprivation," reads Slice of Cruelty, a website created by Mercy for Animals.
Slice of Cruelty calls for customers to boycott Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's and other restaurants that use Leprino cheese until the supplier adopts "meaningful animal welfare policies." The website also encourages readers to choose vegan alternatives to milk, cheese and ice cream.
It's extremely unlikely that any of the big three pizza chains knew the details surrounding animal abuse at a single farm in New Mexico prior to the video's release. However, the horrific treatment of the animals falls into the larger issue of how much responsibility mega-chains should take for suppliers' actions.
McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC are still struggling with the effects of a food-safety scandal in China, where one of their suppliers was revealed (also through a secret video) to be selling expired meat. While the chains and the supplier claimed that the safety violations were an isolated instance in the market, sales plunged for all companies involved.