Nestle is no stranger to controversy: Consumers have frequently spoken out against the food giant to draw attention to animal cruelty, environmentally-unfriendly practices, and even child labor allegations, and now a Pennsylvania court is holding one of its US suppliers accountable. The Pennsylvania State Police and the District Attorney’s (DA) office will prosecute Martin Farms – a domestic dairy supplier for Nestle. The charges will include multiple counts of animal cruelty and will be issued by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

The animal-rights group Animal Outlook (AO) spent nearly four years developing the case against Martin Farms, going undercover in 2018 to expose the extent of animal cruelty occurring on US farms. The organization aims to show people how frequently animal cruelty occurs as well as its ties to major companies like Nestle who claim to be bettering production practices. AO documented appalling cow abuse, noting 327 instances that were presented to the DA.

At first, the DA refused to prosecute Martin Farms even after the instances were classified as animal cruelty, neglect, and aggravated cruelty. In response, AO hosted a petition with a lower court that was dismissed. Despite this dismissal, the Superior Court took up the case, reversing the previous decision and initiating a trial court that will allow the DA to prosecute Martin Farms.

“We have never doubted that the cruelty and neglect revealed by our investigation is squarely within the scope of conduct prohibited by Pennsylvania law, and that includes so-called standard practices,” AO legal counsel Will Lowrey said in a statement. “We have long believed that if we were given access to fair and thorough process under the law, this cruelty would be recognized.

“We’re grateful that the Superior Court did just that here, thoughtfully considering the weight of evidence from our investigation that confirmed Martin Farms’ conduct violated Pennsylvania’s animal protection laws. The Court’s ruling sends a clear message that animals used in agriculture are worthy of protection.”

The court case intends to highlight some of the most damaging practices within the animal agricultural industry, including hot-iron dehorning cows conducted without pain medication. AO claims that 94 percent of the industry engages in this practice routinely. After examining the evidence, the Superior Court’s ruling concluded that the lower court mishandled the case and emphasized that AO collected sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation and prosecution.

While AO’s evidence successfully shed light on Martin Farm’s unethical practices, the court case also reveals industrywide problems for animal agriculture. The Pennsylvania court case will set a new precedent for US dairy farms as it opened a previously dismissed case and legitimized claims against a major dairy supplier. After learning about AO’s 2018 investigation, Nestle dropped Martin Farms as a supplier.

“The most obvious evidence overlooked by the trial court was that concerning the dehorning of calves,” the appellate court stated in its ruling. “Given the extreme agonizing reaction of the young animals to having a hot iron applied to their heads for an excessive amount of time without anesthesia beforehand or pain relief afterward, a fact finder could conclude that the perpetrators of the dehorning grossly deviated from how a reasonable person would proceed and disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that he or she would cause severe and prolonged pain to the animals.”

Animal Cruelty is Common Practice

For decades, animal activists have highlighted the dangerous and unethical practices that bring meat to the table, and finally, consumers have started taking notice. Last week, The New York Times and advocacy group Mercy for Animals published a joint exposé on the poultry industry’s malpractice and mistreatment of chickens. The brutal video calls into question the cruel practices of poultry producers and the health implications of this mistreatment. Similar to the dairy farms investigation, the video essay aims to hold industry giants accountable for extensive malpractice.

AO’s Deputy Director of Investigation Erin Wing personally documented the abuses at Martin Farms. Following years of work, Wing embraces the ruling and expects this will influence the industry standards in the future.

“Since the end of my investigation of Martin Farms in 2018, the images of routine cruelty and violence I witnessed there have been burned into my memory,” Wing said in a statement. “It made me wonder what the limit was for how much cruelty a farm could put animals through before such blatant abuse was recognized. With that accountability finally being delivered by this ruling, I hope this sets a new standard going forward.”

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