Happy cows? PETA wants evidence

Milk board testimony not satisfying concerns raised by animal rights group

By JOSHUA EMERSON SMITHMarch 30, 2012 

Animal rights advocates say dairy farmers continue to provide no evidence to justify their Happy Cows campaign.

Under court order, dairy farmers on the California Milk Advisory Board gave testimony under oath over recent months about their advertising campaign, which promotes the industry as ethical.

"They have not produced one single page that would come close to suggesting the cows are healthy or anything to refute the studies that suggest there are serious problems," said Martina Bernstein, senior litigation counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "I thought these board members would have made some valiant efforts to defend the ad campaign. But they've basically said, 'We only know what goes on our own farms.'"

The milk board and the California Department of Food and Agriculture both declined comment on continuing litigation.

The milk board is one of the largest commodity boards in the country, providing public relations and advertising for the industry.

PETA, a national animal rights organization, filed a legal challenge in Sacramento County Superior Court last summer asking the commodity board to provide evidence to support its claims that cows are comfortable, safe and happy.

PETA maintains that without evidence to substantiate those claims, the milk board violated the California Milk Marketing Order. In turn, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which approved the campaign, violated the California Marketing Act.

In a deposition obtained from PETA, Domenic Carinalli, owner of Domenic Carinalli Dairy & Vineyard in Sebastopol and member of the California Milk Advisory Board, said that, to his knowledge, the milk board hasn't received any information to verify its claim that "California dairy producers care deeply about the health, comfort and safety of their cows." He said at the board meetings he attended the health of cows was never discussed.

Carinalli also said he was unaware that the board was prohibited from making false marketing claims.

Board members Richard Michel, Margo Souza, Tony Machado, Essie Bootsma and Carinalli have all given testimony.

Board members Henry Vander Poel and Perry Tjaarda will be deposed today in Bakersfield. Board member James Ahlem is expected to be deposed in Modesto within the next few weeks.

The judge in the case, Lloyd G. Connelly, is scheduled to hear oral arguments May 25. In this case, the judge must decide whether to issue a writ of mandate directing the milk board to take action about the campaign.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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