/ 17 February 2023

Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm faces criminal charges for animal cruelty

Cows: The Sacred And The Profane
NSPCA said in a statement that the Vrede Integrated Dairy farm cows were emaciated. Photo: Supplied

When it received information that a herd of dairy cows had been left without food, water and veterinary treatment at the Vrede Integrated Dairy farm, the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent a team of inspectors to investigate.

Four cows were emaciated, could not move and had not been treated by vets, the NSPCA said in a statement.

It said charges of animal cruelty had been laid against the owners of the farm in 2014, but the state dropped the case, “claiming that the charged party had fled to India and could no longer be traced”.

The Vrede farm is at the centre of another case in which Estina — a private company linked to the Gupta family, was paid R280.2 million by the Free State department of agriculture to set up a dairy project for local black farmers. But most of the funds allegedly found their way into accounts controlled by the Guptas.

The NSPCA is opening a case of animal cruelty in terms of the Animals Protection Act, said its public relations officer, Keshvi Nair.

“We are still compiling our docket, but we can confirm that given the state we found the cows in, indeed an animal cruelty charge will be laid among other chargers,” she said.

The four cows were euthanised.

“The NSPCA instructed the relevant staff to contact a veterinarian for the sick animals. The farm opted to contact a state veterinarian instead of a commercial veterinarian, knowing very well that state veterinarians do not operate during the weekend,” Nair said.

She said the NSPCA conducted a follow-up inspection and found more incidents of animal cruelty. Farm owners are legally obligated to provide basic needs such as food, water, shelter and veterinary attention for their animals. 

“One of the cows was found suffering from an apparent eye infection that was left untreated and had maggots eating away at the eyeball,” said Nair

The NSPCA had to euthanise two more cows that had not received veterinarian care. One was struggling to breathe and had not been able to move for three days, while the other had a broken leg.

The NSPCA also found calves with diarrhoea, and established that the medication being provided to them was inadequate because of an alleged shortage on the farm.  

Nair said it was disturbing that a project worth millions of rand failed to provide basic needs for its animals.

“These are the same animals that farmers expect to help them make a profit at the end of the day,” she said. “Had the NSPCA not investigated, it is likely that the farm could have let the animals suffer slow and painful deaths.”