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Harris Teeter denies PETA allegations about abuse at dairy

Harris Teeter denied Tuesday that it uses milk from a small farm that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused of animal cruelty, though PETA insisted its investigation shows the milk goes to Harris Teeter.

The animal rights group released a video of what it says are cows forced to live in filthy, manure-soaked pools of their own waste.

But Harris Teeter, a subsidiary of the Kroger Co., said it double-checked with its dairy supplier and doesn’t receive any milk from the farm in question.

“Harris Teeter has verified with its supplier Piedmont Milk Producers that we do not receive milk from Osborne Dairy Farm. We will be asking PETA to issue a retraction immediately,” said Harris Teeter spokeswoman Catherine Becker.

Osborne Dairy Farm, the farm PETA filmed, could not be reached for comment. Piedmont Milk’s president did not return a message.

The dairy operation is located in Haywood County, in Western North Carolina, the animal rights group said. The dairy milks about 30 cows.

“PETA received a tip from a confidential source who was rightfully alarmed by the manure and the pain and lameness it appeared to be causing these cows,” said Dan Paden, of PETA. He said the group visited the dairy and found cows living in more than a foot of their own manure and urine, which was corroding their skin.

Paden said PETA’s investigation had verified that the farm’s milk is sold to a processor that exclusively supplies Harris Teeter. In response to Becker’s denial, he showed the Observer a state government inspection form that appeared to designate Piedmont Milk as the destination for the dairy’s product.

A Piedmont Milk sales representative told PETA that the plant supplies milk exclusively to Harris Teeter, Paden said.

PETA said it contacted the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which would oversee the waste issues. A DENR spokeswoman didn’t respond Tuesday to an Observer inquiry.

A spokesman for the N.C. Department of Agriculture confirmed the agency had received PETA’s complaint and inspected the facility last week. Brian Long said inspectors found some violations in the milking parlor, such as loose ceiling tiles and rusted metal. He said inspectors found nothing that would constitute a public health hazard, and found no problems in the milk storage tanks.

“That area was not similar to what was depicted in some parts of that video,” Long said of the milking parlor. Inspectors are going to return to the dairy this week to follow up.

Harris Teeter was acquired by Cincinnati-based Kroger in January. The company is the latest to find itself in PETA’s crosshairs. PETA, which opposes using animals for food, clothing, experimentation or entertainment, has recently released videos showing what it says is animal cruelty among wool suppliers in Australia, hog breeders and SeaWorld.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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