By Alex Distefano
Ever since the very first In-N-Out set up shop in Baldwin Park over six decades ago, the company’s dedication to simplicity was clear: to serve freshly cooked hamburgers (prepared using fresh ground beef) and made-to-order fries (hand cut from fresh potatoes), all at affordable prices. Oh, and don’t forget the shakes made of milk and real ice cream. With a business model like that, nothing could go wrong, right?
Wrong, according to Mercy for Animals, an L.A. based animal-rights group working to prevent cruelty to animals on farms, while promoting compassionate nutrition choices and education on policies affecting the food supply. The organization recently called out the Irvine-based fast-food company—which operates nearly 30 restaurants in IE cities such as Chino, Corona, Fontana, Lake Elsinore, Indio, Menifee, Moreno Valley, Norco, Ontario and Pomona and Riverside— to immediately end its ties with one of its food suppliers, a dairy farm in Idaho. Video footage—from Mercy for Animals’ own undercover investigation—appears to depict dairy employees abusing cows.
The video, filmed over a period of roughly a month last summer at the Bettencourt Dairies Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, Idaho, shows workers using electric prods to stab and beat cows that were obviously sick and wounded. Many cows that were too sick to walk, often called “downer cows,” were forcibly shocked, stabbed and dragged, which is illegal under federal slaughterhouse regulations. The video also shows that some cows had infections, open wounds and broken bones and were not provided with veterinary care, according to Mercy for Animals. The shocking footage has outraged many, and has caused an uproar among activists, consumers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and food businesses such as Wendy’s and Burger King, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail. Wendy’s has distanced itself from Bettencourt and Burger King has launched its own investigation.
Mercy for Animals consulted with several nationally known, independent experts on farm animals and veterinary science to review the video and comment on what it depicted.
“I have rarely seen such brutal treatment of farm animals, and this farm must be shut down immediately,” Dr. Debra Teachout, a veterinarian with a doctorate from the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says. “Those responsible for the cruel treatment of these cows must be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They should also never be allowed to work around animals again,” she said.
Since the footage came to light, misdemeanor animal-cruelty charges were filed against three Bettencourt employees, and the dairy’s owner says he’s taken steps to prevent future abuse, according to New York’s Daily News.
Teachout, who also holds an advanced degree in veterinary clinical pathology from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, was severely critical of the alleged abuse.
“The conduct of the workers toward the cows is deplorable,” she says. “These cows are serving as targets of vicious intent to harm in a management system that is either absent or complicit in a facility culture that exudes violence and abuse.”
So what does this mean for IE locals who just happen to love In-N-Out’s old-fashioned and tasty charms?
In-N-Out corporate employees declined to comment on this story for the Weekly, but one corporate exec—via a press release—says customers have nothing to worry about.
In-N-Out Chief Operating Officer Mark Taylor assures people that the beloved hamburger chain has no direct contact with Bettencourt dairy.
“The dairy filmed is one of numerous dairies that sell milk to a bulk cheese manufacturer, which in turn sells [its] bulk cheese to suppliers for further processing and retail use,” Taylor said in a written statement dated Oct. 10. “In-N-Out buys its cheese at this point.”
He went on to say that In-N-Out conducts unannounced random inspections of its suppliers to maintain a level of transparency and to maintain a commitment to meeting safety and animal-welfare regulations. He guaranteed customers that action would be taken if necessary if it is determined that anyone “in our chain of supply has failed to adhere to federal animal welfare standards, or in the case of our direct suppliers, our own strict contractual standards.”