Manuka dairy firm under investigation in Chile

New Zealand dairy company Manuka is under investigation by Chilean authorities for alleged animal abuse in killing 6000 calves unusable in the milk production process. 

The company has said it has strict protocols for euthanasing bobby calves - but it was possible some calves had not been euthanased according to those protocols and its management would take appropriate action. 

Three-term Chilean politician Fidel Espinoza denounced Manuka’s activities in the Chilean House of Representatives. 

Espinoza asked the minister of labour to conduct a thorough investigation into both the slaughter, and the psychological damage suffered by workers involved.

The company forced workers to "repeatedly kill thousands of calves in every season, from July to September, leaving them starving, slitting their throats or beating them with objects of great forcefulness, so that the young do not consume the milk produced by the company," he said.

Espinoza said the dead animals were not the only victims, as the workers suffered "serious psychological harm because they have to follow orders" to carry out the slaughter.

Manuka believed "they can do what they want", and it would be "impossible to undertake such practices in their country of origin," he said. 

Espinoza posted a photo on Twitter of dead calves dumped in pits on agricultural lands reportedly controlled by Manuka. 

HORROR DE HORRORES EN #HACIENDARUPANCO #PuertoOctay #Manuka @fideldiputado vía @surlink @24HorasTVN @Cooperativa

— Carlos Delgado Rivas (@cadelgadorivas) January 21, 2014

Espinoza called on Manuka’s management to "not make fun of Chilean justice" and reveal the location of the graves of the slaughtered animals.  

One worker told Chilean media he had seen calves buried alive.

Chilean media reported the Agriculture and Livestock Service in Los Lagos was aware of the situation and had imposed financial penalties on Manuka for various offences related to non-veterinary staff carrying out euthanasia. 

The Agriculture and Livestock Service conducted an investigation after receiving a complaint in August 2013, but had no obligation to report incidents that might constitute a crime, a spokesman told Chilean media.

 Another investigation was under way, with prosecutor Leyla Chahin saying they had not yet taken statements because "nobody has been very coo-perative." 

"This is an investigation for animal abuse, a crime that is punishable under the Penal Code with penalties ranging from a fine to three years of imprisonment in its medium degree," she said. 

Manuka director Mark Townshend, speaking to Fairfax Media in New Zealand, said slaughterhouse facilities were not available in Chile’s developing dairying industry. 

"In the early days in New Zealand you didn't have those, and some of the calves were put down on the farm, that's the way it used to happen until we had the facilities, and we're just moving to that at this point in time." 

Killing bobby calves was commonplace, and the figure of 6,000 reported dead was "about right", he said. 

"Just like in New Zealand, the heifer calves you keep, and the male calves, like in New Zealand, don't really have a use. 

"Some of them have a beef use, and some are sold at three or four days for slaughter and that's the common practice in New Zealand." 

The company had strict protocols in place on the farms in Chile on how calves were to be euthanased, he said. 

"From [New Zealand], we don't know... It is possible that some of the calves had not been euthanased exactly as our protocol states. 

"In that case it is regrettable and management is taking action to deal with that." 

A New Zealand operator was looking to set up a facility in Chile so the company could euthanase calves as it does here, Townshend said. 

"It's just a transition thing." 

Manuka owns 22,500 hectares in Chile with farms in Los Lagos and Los Rios, and employs about 340 people. 

Some of New Zealand’s most high profile dairy figures are or have been shareholders in the company.

Fairfax Media