Ohio dairy farmworker charged with animal cruelty after advocacy group releases undercover video
Following Illinois-based animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals' release of undercover video it says documents numerous instances of animal abuse at an Ohio dairy farm, a farm worker has been charged with 12 counts of animal cruelty.
Billy Joe Gregg Jr., 25, was fired from his job at Conklin Dairy Farms Inc. on Wednesday and arrested later the same day. He was arraigned Thursday and remains jailed following his court appearance. A judge set his bond at $100,000. He is due back in court in June, at which time he will enter a plea.
An investigation into the alleged cruelty at the Plain City farm, including viewing of about 20 hours of footage provided by Mercy for Animals, is ongoing and may result in additional charges, the local sheriff's department told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The Mercy for Animals video (which is available for viewing on the group's website, but is not for the faint of heart) depicts a calf being thrown to the ground before a worker stomps on its head and adult cows being beaten with crowbars, poked sharply with pitchforks and punched in the udders, among other things. The group says the video was shot between April 28 and May 23.
Each animal cruelty charge against Gregg could carry a penalty of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. Chief Deputy Tom Morgan told the Associated Press that the video seems to show three to four workers participating in acts of alleged animal cruelty and "we have to identify who all is involved."
In a statement released Wednesday, the Conklin dairy company insisted that it did not condone cruelty to its cows, adding that it has "launched [an] internal investigation into this matter and will be conducting interviews with everyone on our farm who works with our animals."
In a further statement Thursday, it again condemned the acts caught on Mercy for Animals' video, but added that the footage is missing context that would demonstrate that its facility is operated in a responsible way, according to the Associated Press.
One of the men shown in the video appears to be farm owner Gary Conklin himself, the Columbus Dispatch reported. The Dispatch also noted that the farm had been inspected three times in the last year. Though the inspections were intended simply to gauge the facility's cleanliness, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesperson Cindy Kalis said that telltale signs of animal abuse would have been noted during the inspections. None were found, she said.
The farm's statements condemning animal cruelty rang hollow for at least one animal advocate, Farm Sanctuary co-founder and president Gene Baur, who released his own statement Wednesday. In it, he commented that the Conklin company "asserts that its farm operates according to high standards, but the video shows that they operate by a different set of standards than most Americans. The cruelty and violent behavior that is now common on farms where animals are seen as commodities is outside the boundaries of acceptable conduct in our society."
Mercy for Animals released a similarly grisly video depicting unwanted live chicks being thrown into a grinder at an Iowa chicken facility last year. At that time, the group's executive director, Nathan Runkle, argued that laws mandating the humane treatment of farm animals should be addressed on a federal level rather than being regulated by individual states, which it largely is at present.
With the release of the recent dairy farm video footage, Runkle reiterated his support for tougher regulations relating to farm animal treatment, saying in a statement that "stronger and stricter state and federal laws to prevent and discourage farmers from abusing and beating animals" are required.
Even before news broke of the cruelty investigation at the Conklin facility, farm-animal welfare was something of a hot topic in Ohio, where a coalition called Ohioans for Humane Farms is pushing for humane reforms and increased oversight of the state's livestock board. It hopes to place a measure that would address farm animal treatment on the state's ballot in November.
In his statement Wednesday, Farm Sanctuary's Baur called the proposed ballot measure "a positive step in the right direction for Ohioans who feel justifiably outraged by the abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms."
RELATED NEWS ABOUT FARM ANIMALS:
Egg-farm video is latest salvo in Humane Society's campaign (April 2010 story by P.J. Huffstutter)
Vermont slaughterhouse closed amid animal cruelty allegations
-- Lindsay Barnett
Top photo: In a screen grab from the Mercy for Animals video, a calf is thrown to the ground before a worker whose face is not shown stomps on its head. Credit: Mercy for Animals
Middle photo: Billy Joe Gregg Jr. in a photo released by the Union County Sheriff's Office. Credit: Associated Press
Bottom photo: Chicks are moved on a conveyor belt in a screen grab from Mercy for Animals' Iowa chicken video released in 2009. Credit: Associated Press