Undercover footage taken at Madox Farm in the UK has unearthed animal cruelty concerns within major dairy supply chains. BBC Panorama aired the footage yesterday in a 30-minute segment called A Cow’s Life: The True Cost Of Milk?
An investigator from Animal Equality, an animal protection charity, went undercover at the dairy facility in late 2021. The farm – based in Carmarthenshire in the south-west of Wales – houses more than 650 cows and their calves.
The footage shows dairy workers kicking and punching cows, and striking them in the face with shovels.
Further, staff are shown using heavy machinery to hoist animals who had fallen over up by their hips. Some cows were left suspended in the air by their hips, while others were dragged along the floor, their faces scraping against the concrete. Many cows were unable to walk or stand up at all.
BBC Panorama, the world’s longest running investigative TV program, called the footage “disturbing” and “shocking.”
‘Alarming animal abuse’
According to a press release from Animal Equality, managers at Madox Farm knowingly let cows suffer to cut back on costs. One pregnant cow was “left in excruciating pain” after her unborn calf died inside her, the charity said.
The on-site manager reportedly ignored a veterinarian’s advice to euthanize the animal; “this is one place where they’d rather just save the money,” the vet was recorded saying. The cow died in the night.
Veterinary surgeon Marc Abraham OBE labeled the footage an example of “alarming animal abuse and neglect.”
“There are a number of concerning incidents where appropriate medical care was not provided to sick, lame and injured cows, as well as several occasions where cows were struck violently and repeatedly,” Abraham said in a statement. “There is no doubt in my mind that these cows would have suffered significantly and that their prolonged pain was entirely avoidable.”
The segment also shone a light on the routine removal of newborn calves from their mothers. In the BBC Panorama program, workers are shown separating new mother cows from their babies just hours after birth.
This is “typical” at thousands of dairy farms across the country, Animal Equality notes, including at small-holdings and organic farms.
In the dairy industry, cows are forcibly impregnated, usually via artificial insemination, so that they begin lactating. Like humans, cow pregnancies last for around nine months. Shortly after the cows give birth, workers remove their calves so that their milk can be collected for human consumption.
The separation is considered heavily distressing for both mother and baby, with some mother cows bellowing after their lost children for days.
Warning: this image gallery contains graphic content relating to animal abuse.
Madox Farm supplies milk to Freshways, the UK’s largest independent dairy processor and wholesaler. Freshways distributes cow’s milk to a wealth of major companies, including Costa Coffee, British Airways, Budgens, Londis, and P&O Cruises.
It also holds a deal with Morrisons, supplying milk to restaurants and cafes within the chain’s wholesale operation, as well as Amazon Fresh.
Speaking about the recently published covert footage, Freshways stated that the “famer involved has been suspended for all collections until such time as a reaudit and full investigation has been carried out.”
Following the short documentary’s release, a “social media storm” took over Twitter, Animal Equality said. There, tens of thousands of commenters voiced their concerns about the industry’s treatment of animals.
Lord Zac Goldsmith, environment minister for the UK, wrote: “What is wrong with these people? Absolute f*ckers.”
British actor Peter Egan appeared equally disturbed. “Anyone who wants to understand why the dairy industry is disgusting, inhumane, and careless should watch it,” Egan Tweeted about the program. “The consumer decides how cruel the industry is. My decision is to support a compassionate lifestyle and be vegan.”
Egan wasn’t alone in his view. #GoVegan began trending on Twitter – alongside #Panorama and #ACowsLife – just hours after the program debuted, Animal Equality said.
‘Consumers are being conned’
In response to the findings, Advocates for Animals, a legal firm dedicated to animal law, submitted a complaint to Carmarthenshire County Council. The complaint was made on behalf of Animal Equality, which has since launched a petition calling for stricter animal protections.
“Animal Equality has investigated over 40 farms and slaughterhouses in the UK since 2011 and we have found a shocking lack of regard for their welfare in every single facility,” the petition reads.
“The UK is failing animals and it’s time for the government to act. The public puts its faith in accreditation schemes, awards and authorities, but consumers are being conned.
“The truth is animal suffering takes place across all farms by this industry that consistently prioritizes profits, and whether it’s a small-scale organic farm or an intensive one, animal suffering can never truly be avoided.”
Those interested can view the petition here.