More than forty activists gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Leprino Foods corporate headquarters on West 38th Avenue at noon yesterday, carrying signs and banners printed with the phrases "Leprino Foods: Cruelty in every slice" and "Cows suffer for Leprino cheese." The rally was organized by Mercy for Animals (MFA), an organization whose stated mission is "preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies." The goal of the organizers was to present more than 250,000 petition signatures calling for Leprino to adopt policies that would deter animal abuse at its dairy suppliers.
Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, says the organization has used hidden cameras to document animal abuse -- including tail-docking (cutting off calves' tails without anesthesia) and beating -- at farms that supply dairy to Leprino, most recently the Winchester Dairy in New Mexico. "We're asking Leprino to require non-slip floors in their supplier's dairies," Rice lists as one of the petition's demands, because cows slip and fall on concrete floors and dairy workers have been recorded beating the animals to get them moving again. MFA would also like to see an end to tail-docking, which Rice says in an unnecessary and painful practice.
In response to the group's petition, Leprino released a statement declaring, "We must do business in an ethical manner and strive to do the right thing. We and our dairy farm suppliers benefit from well-treated and well-cared for dairy cows. It is ethically responsible and the right thing to do."
Specifically addressing MFA's video of the Winchester Dairy, the statement said: "Recently, we were appalled to learn of a horrendous animal abuse video on a New Mexico farm that supplied our Roswell plant. These types of acts are the opposite of what Leprino Foods' Core Values demand. Fortunately, the dairy cooperative had already ceased shipping milk from that farm to anyone."
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This is not the only time the Leprino name has been in the news lately: The protest comes after the release of Forbes's annual list of the 400 richest Americans, which puts Leprino owner and chairman James Leprino at number four in Colorado, with a net worth of $1.95 billion.