Dec 2020 Update: The New York Times published a story featuring our investigation, asking "Is Dairy Farming Cruel to Cows?" Our answer: Unequivocally, yes. "Some farms might be less cruel than others, but there is no such thing as cruelty-free milk.” – Erica Meier, President of Animal Outlook
VICTORY: Shortly after we released our hard-hitting footage inside Dick Van Dam Dairy, Dairy Farmers of America dropped this facility as a supplier. While this is a big step in the right direction, we’re not letting DFA off that easily. Join us in urging the dairy giant to shift 20% of its supply chain to plant-based alternatives.
After a two-year career working undercover inside several factory farms, Animal Outlook investigator Erin Wing now reveals her identity, stepping out of the shadows to shine a light on the stomach-churning horrors she witnessed at her most recent -- and last -- investigation at Dick Van Dam Dairy, a factory farm in Southern California.
While there, Erin documented some of the most egregious cruelties she has seen in her career, along with barbaric (yet standard) dairy industry practices. She was also able to rescue a calf who now lives at a sanctuary (more on the calf rescue below).
What Erin witnessed was one of many dairy farms in its death throes with innocent cows caught in the middle of a battle between a world progressing and an industry fighting tooth and nail to keep us entrenched in the past.
This shocking footage underscores the urgency to end this inherently cruel industry once and for all. It’s time for consumers to ditch dairy, and for companies like Dean Foods to pivot to vegan products.
Animal Outlook's undercover footage revealed:
• Cows so sick or injured they are unable to walk subjected to extremely cruel treatment by workers who sprayed them in the face with high powered water hoses; kicked, jabbed and shocked them; and closed metal gates on them.
• Workers routinely lifting these so-called “downer” cows with a tractor and dragging them with a metal device called a “hip clamp.” They lifted one suffering cow this way and dangled her almost 20 feet in the air to move her over a wall, and then dragged her backward over a cement slab.
• Sick cows left to suffer without medication, veterinary care or euthanasia. They languished for days until they died on their own, with no access to food or water while they were unable to stand.
• Workers and a manager hitting cows with wooden canes and metal pipes in daily acts of extreme aggression and violence, sometimes as a form of retaliation against the animals.
• Workers and managers punching and kicking cows, and twisting their tails.
• Squalid and filthy conditions – cows forced to walk through thick feces and newborn calves unable to escape thousands of flies covering their fragile bodies.
• Shocking mortality rates of cows and calves, as well as high rates of injuries and illnesses – likely resulting from the putrid conditions and lack of care and treatment. One calf was born dead, and was pulled roughly from his or her mother. The mother cow didn’t have the benefit of pain management during this incredibly painful and rough incident.
• Cows repeatedly shocked with an electric prod as they were taken away to slaughter.
• Workers cruelly using automated gates to try to force cows to move in tightly packed spaces.
"I saw abuse and neglect every single day at this farm," said Erin Wing, who investigated Dick Van Dam Dairy -- her last undercover investigation before choosing to leave the field. "I feel a special bond toward cows now because of it, and it will always stay with me. A part of me will always be with them as well."
Turning hidden cameras into instruments of truth, undercover investigators are on the front lines of justice for animals — and consumers. Erin’s courage resulted in hidden camera footage that is changing the way the world sees what — and who — they’re eating. And the against-all-odds rescue of two young calves.
In more ways than one, dairy is dead on arrival. Cows must be pregnant in order to produce milk, so calves are mere byproducts to the industry. At Dick Van Dam, a slow and painful death was commonplace for calves. In one instance, a stillborn calf was pulled violently from his suffering mother. Many living calves were simply left in the hot California sun, covered in flies and slowly dying.
Meanwhile, consumers are slowly but surely realizing that the milk they drink does not come from happy cows, but relies on the broken bond between mother and child, and the violent exploitation of these individuals’ bodies. The dairy industry is dying, but not fast enough.
We also followed a truck carrying so-called “spent” cows from the factory farm to a stockyard. Later, we documented trucks going from that stockyard to American Beef Packers (ABP), the site of the former Westland/Hallmark Beef Packing plant that closed down after issuing a massive beef recall following the Humane Society of the United States’ 2008 undercover investigation, raising the question of whether this facility’s cows are ending up killed at this infamous site. ABP currently sells beef to the federal government for its National School Lunch Program.
Animal Outlook submitted investigative materials to county law enforcement agencies. Despite our overwhelming video evidence depicting dozens of apparent violations of California’s laws against animal cruelty and neglect, local law enforcement declined to recommend criminal charges. However, we are still actively pursuing justice for these animals through other means. And after reviewing the investigation, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Dick Van Dam Dairy and the individuals caught on camera for violating state and local animal cruelty laws.
Dick Van Dam Investigation Photos
The dairy industry sentences calves to either a miserable death or a life of torment. Because cows must have babies in order to produce milk (like any other mammal), their calves are little more than a byproduct of the milk industry and are either left to suffer and die like on Dick Van Dam Dairy, or sold for veal or meat.
Following this investigation, we rescued two young calves from the facility. Unfortunately, one of the calves, Hank, was too sick to survive. His companion Samuel, however, lives on at Animal Place sanctuary in California, bringing hope that together we can build a kinder world for all.
“I carry a small Holstein calf figurine to remember Hank. The effects of farmed life and the dairy industry were too much for him to survive. That’s why I’m still here. After working as an undercover investigator for years, I’m signing on to continue as an animal rights advocate for many more years to fight for animals like Hank.”
Erin, Animal Outlook investigator
Our investigators followed a truck from Dick Van Dam to a factory that produces milk for Alta Dena and TruMoo, brands owned by the nation’s largest milk producer: Dean Foods.
Before declaring bankruptcy and selling most of its assets to Dairy Farmers of America, Dean Foods, which produces 10 percent of the US milk supply, claimed that it “requires that at all times all cattle are treated humanely and with patience, dignity and respect” -- yet it hid the horrors endured by gentle mother cows and their babies in the dairy industry behind the playful packaging found on brands like TruMoo, which is marketed to kids in schools across the country.
Soon after Dean Food’s declaration of bankruptcy, Borden Dairy followed suit, citing “market challenges facing the dairy industry” as grounds for its own bankruptcy filing. Cruel dairy is a dying industry, evidenced by its desperate efforts to squash plant milk labels and even a price-fixing conspiracy involving the killing of half a million young cows to reduce the nation’s milk supply and thus artificially (and illegally) inflate the price of milk.
This cruelty should be the final nail in the coffin to the dying dairy industry. Help us make sure it is. Take action:
- The Patch: San Jacinto Dairy Farm At Center Of Animal Rights Lawsuit
- VegNews: New Investigation Exposes Horrific Cruelty at Dairy Farm Linked to School Lunch Programs
- The Press-Enterprise: San Jacinto dairy sued over hidden video that allegedly shows abuse of cows
- AgDaily: Animal-advocacy group claims to video abuse at Calif. Dairy
- Dairy Herd Management: California Dairy Faces Animal Abuse Lawsuit
- Sentient Media: Why we need to hold this California dairy accountable
- The Guardian: Alleged animal abuse in US dairy sector under investigation
- One Green Planet: Horrifying Footage of Southern California Dairy Farm
- Independent Media Institute: The Terrible True Cost of Milk, Cheese, Butter and Ice Cream
- Lady Freethinker: Your Kids’ School Lunch Could Come From Abused Cows, Investigation Reveals
- NBC: Cow Abuse Lawsuit Against San Jacinto Family Based on Fiction, Lawyer Says
- Jane Unchained: Animal Outlook's Erin Wing discusses her investigation of a California factory farm, Dick Van Dam Dairy, on Jane Unchained News
- World Animals Voice: USA: It’s time to let dairy die
- The Press-Enterprise: Lawsuit that claimed San Jacinto dairy abused its cows is dismissed
- The New York Times: Is Dairy Farming Cruel to Cows?
- Jane Unchained: Erica Meier and Erin Wing Discuss the Dairy Industry
- One Green Planet: Animal Activists Speak Out About Dairy Cow Treatment