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Idaho dairy fires 5 workers in animal abuse video; 3 of them charged

By Michael Martinez and Amanda Watts, CNN
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Wed October 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An undercover video by an animal rights group shows mistreatment to cows
  • The owner of a 30-year-old family dairy fires five workers
  • Three of the workers are charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty
  • The dairy provides milk to a supplier of Kraft Foods

(CNN) -- Five workers at an Idaho dairy have been fired after an undercover video by animal rights activists showed mistreatment towards cows, the dairy owner said.

Three of the workers have been charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals, according to Twin Falls County District Court records.

Luis Bettencourt, owner of Bettencourt Dairies, told CNN his family-owned operation of 30 years was "appalled" at the video -- which the Mercy for Animals group says depicts workers and supervisors "violently hitting, stomping on, punching and kicking cows in the face and body."

The Idaho Department of Agriculture informed the dairy of the tape about five weeks ago, and Bettencourt fired all the individuals filmed in the mistreatment, he said. Since then, the business has installed video cameras to watch employees, he added.

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"We are all devastated by it. We are family owned and we love our cattle," Bettencourt told CNN. "It's something we don't allow, and it's been a hard five weeks."

Bettencourt Dairies, based in Wendell, Idaho, has 13 milking facilities with about 60,000 cows and about 500 employees, its website says. The video was taken at the firm's Dry Creek Dairy site outside Hansen, Idaho, where about 10,000 Holstein cows are kept, the animal rights group said.

All 500 employees at 11 dairies have seen the video, and each has signed a document about zero tolerance on animal abuse, Bettencourt said.

The workers who have been charged are Jesus Garza, 24; Jose Acensio, 28; and Javier Victor Rojas Loayza, 39.

Previously on CNN.com: USDA suspends slaughterhouse after video appears to show animal cruelty

Kraft Foods said the dairy provides milks to a supplier, which processes raw material for Kraft, spokeswoman Angela Wiggins said in a statement.

"While Kraft does not raise dairy cows or have milking operations, we want animals to receive proper care and be treated with respect. We have long believed high-quality dairy products begin with quality animal care," Wiggins said.

"Kraft condemns the handling behaviors shown in this video as they are both upsetting and unacceptable," she said.

Burger King Corporation said the Bettencourt Dairies "may be an indirect supplier of a small percentage of cheese products" used in the chain's U.S. restaurants, spokesman Bryson W. Thornton said in a statement.

"Burger King Worldwide does not have a direct relationship with Bettencourt Dairies," Thornton said. "Burger King Worldwide estimates that a fraction of our dairy products, less than 1%, could have originated at the Bettencourt facility where the video that depicts inhumane treatment of dairy cows was allegedly filmed."

The firm "does not tolerate or condone cruelty to animals," he said.

Jane Velez-Mitchell: USDA needs to clean up its act

CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

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