PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A prominent Northwest dairy cooperative, Darigold Inc., may have allowed some member farms to milk cows that had injuries and infections in their udders, among other ailments, according to allegations made Friday by workers and the farmworker union.
Darigold's General Counsel Steve Rowe says the accusations are inaccurate and misleading. Rowe said the co-op rigorously inspects and tests the milk it receives from its farmers and dumps milk that doesn't meet its high quality standard.
"The milk is not contaminated, the milk is not at risk," Rowe said.
At a press conference organized by the United Farm Workers in Portland, several dairy workers said they routinely have to milk cows that are sick or injured, noticeably frail or in pain, or that can barely walk.
The workers from various Darigold member farms requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.
They said the cows injure themselves due to overcrowded conditions at the farms.
At one of the dairies, a worker said, four people are responsible for milking about 4,500 cows during each shift, using 50 milking machines simultaneously.
"Workers are telling us this type of animal cruelty is rampant across Darigold dairies," said Jorge Valenzuela, a UFW organizer in Hermiston. "The orders they are getting is they have to milk as much as possible, as quickly as possible, even if the cows are noticeably in pain or the milk is tainted with blood."
The UFW released photographs taken by workers at four Darigold dairies that show injured cows being milked.
Similar allegations are made in a consumer lawsuit filed earlier this month by attorney Marcos Camacho and Farmworker Justice.
Rowe said the UFW has not forwarded all the photographs to the company, so he could not comment on them. Photos the company received earlier, he said, were several years old or the injuries were natural.
Rowe said Darigold is not in a position to dictate how its more than 500 member farms manage their operations. However, dairies must agree to follow national animal care guidelines and meet milk quality standards, he said.
Officials at the Oregon and Washington departments of agriculture said they have not received complaints regarding the allegations.
Frank Barcellos, food safety program manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said dairies are inspected roughly every three months. Washington officials said farms are inspected every six months, but they look at equipment and sanitation, not animal welfare.
The union's allegations are the latest in a feud with the Seattle-based co-op over workers' rights. The UFW has been trying to unionize Darigold workers for years.
Darigold's annual revenue is over $2 billion. It has member farms in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California and Montana and operates 13 processing plants in the Northwest, where it pasteurizes the milk, turns some of it into butter and other products, and distributes those products.