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Poisoned by Purina: The Case of the Alpaca Massacre
by Denise Grollmus - 4/30/2008
on Cleveland Scene Magazine
Purina Mills is owned by Land O' Lakes
Because I live in Medina Co. and love alpacas,
this news affected me so deeply, that I felt compelled to include it with our small business list. ‘Poisoned by Purina’ however, was only the beginning as my research expanded into the harm and injustice corporations are committing against consumers.  After you read this packet and search the links, please boycott the corporate offenders and inform others.    
Magical Farms sits on 1,000 acres in Litchfield, a place so quiet you can hear the wind smack against the branches of naked trees far off on the horizon.
The googly eyes of 1,600 alpacas peer curiously from a maze of pens, where mothers feed their young and mammoth males with names like Powder Keg and Pulitzer anxiously wait to breed. They are mythical-looking creatures, shrouded in clouds of brown, white, and caramel fur that's as warm as wool and as soft as cashmere. These are the Rolls-Royces of livestock, worth anywhere from $20,000 to $1 million apiece.
Owner Jerry Forstner started buying alpacas in 1993 after reading a story describing them as a solid and easy investment. Their valuable fleece is shaved once or twice a year and then sold to textile manufacturers for sweaters, hats, and blankets.
Forstner, who founded Lube Stop and a mini-storage company, already had a giant horse farm. He began importing alpacas from deep within the Andes ranges of Peru. After two years, Forstner fell in love with their serene demeanor. He sold off his horses, bought more land, and hired the former operations manager of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Diane Pekarek, to oversee his farm, now the largest in North America. "They are such shy, curious animals," says Pekarek, as one gently gnaws grass from her hand. "It's so cool to finally gain their trust."
But things weren't always so peaceful and prosperous here.
That hazy morning in 2003 felt as calm as any other. But as the farmhands arrived and extinguished their cigarettes, it was clear that something was terribly wrong.
Across the fields, a dozen alpacas lay dead. More screamed in pain, blood dropping from their eyes, legs collapsing. The final death toll reached 120. Another 300 were left with damaged kidneys and hearts. "It was the worst day of my whole life, and I'm an old fart," Forstner says. "We were carting dead bodies out of the field, one after the other. It was more than most normal people can bear."
Forstner contacted experts at Ohio State, who conducted necropsies. It turned out that the feed they'd been eating, purchased from the Purina Mills plant in Massillon, had been dosed with salinomycin — a chemical used to kill parasites in pigs and chickens, but which is deadly to alpacas.
Forstner called Purina Mills headquarters in Minneapolis to relay the news. He also phoned other alpaca farms across Ohio, but it was too late. Their animals were dying too.
It took Purina Mills almost a week to get back to Forstner. The company sent out its own expert, who analyzed the feed and confirmed OSU's results. "He also agreed that it was the feed that killed [them]," Forstner says. "After that, we never heard from him again."
For the next six months, Forstner tried his best to get the company to compensate him for his ravaged herd. He estimated his losses at $12 million. "I was hoping they'd be good corporate citizens and take responsibility," he says. "I simply wanted them to pay for the animals we lost. But they wouldn't even return our calls." So Forstner sued.
It would prove a costly and painful endeavor — a battle that has become the Michael Clayton of the animal kingdom.
Over the next four years, Purina Mills conducted damage control — or as Forstner describes it, "a major cover-up." (Brian Delgado, spokesman for Purina Mills' parent company, Land O'Lakes, refused comment.)
Since 1894, the company has been one of the nation's largest feed producers, until it split in 2001. Its dog- and cat-food lines were purchased by Nestlé, while its livestock division went to Land O'Lakes.
The company readily admitted to producing tainted feed. But it thought that Forstner was vastly overstating his animals' value. So began a protracted legal war that would take four years to arrive in court. Twenty-four of the dead alpacas were removed from the case on a technicality — they were owned by Forstner's wife; she would have to sue separately.
The trial didn't commence until March 2007. Since Land O'Lakes had already confessed its sins, culpability wasn't the issue. This was a fight over damages.
They painted Forstner as a greedy man trying to exploit the massacre. They pointed to instances where Forstner wanted as much as $325,000 for one alpaca, though he'd purchased it for just $18,000 five years earlier. Land O'Lakes also hired an economist who testified that the average price of Magical Farms' alpacas was around $14,000.
But the value of livestock isn't so easily distilled, says Cindy Berman, spokeswoman for the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association. Prices are predicated on such intangibles as lineage and breeding potential. "They are like any other livestock — where prize animals can go for thousands, but everyday animals can go for just a couple hundred."
Forstner claimed his alpacas' coveted Peruvian lineages made them priceless. But the jury was unimpressed. It found Land O'Lakes guilty but awarded Forstner only $1.6 million — not even enough to cover his legal fees. "Part of the problem was the jury's ignorance of the animals' worth," Pekarek says. "To them, it was just livestock, just a bunch of animals, like cows."
Forstner has appealed, and he and his wife now await the trial for her animals, which will begin in Medina County this month.
Whatever the outcome, the sense of injustice within Pekarek won't subside anytime soon. "To watch them die the way they did — people probably figure that it's just livestock, we got our money, what are we complaining about? But that's not the point. The point is that the company poisoned these animals and didn't want to take responsibility. That's the point."
Alpaca Court Case Timeline
March 18, 2003 -- Magical Farms discovers 12 male alpacas dead with no outward signs of trauma. Others are lethargic, refusing to eat or stand. More deaths follow. Magical Farms and nearby Majestic Meadows Alpacas eventually claim tainted Land O'Lakes feed killed more than 100 alpacas and injured another 252 who ate the feed and survived.
March 13, 2007 -- Trial opens in U.S. District Court. Magical Farms seeks $11.5 million and Majestic Meadows seeks $570,000.
April 3, 2007 -- Jurors reject much of alpaca owners' claim, awarding $1.6 million to Magical Farms and $30,000 to Majestic Meadows.
Feb. 6, 2008 -- The farms appeal rulings made during the trial by U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko. They say he should have allowed the jury to consider a claim of fraud, as well as punitive damage evidence. They also contend Boyko gave confusing jury instructions and wrongly denied their motion for a new trial.
Dec. 8, 2009 -- Appeals court reverses U.S. District Court on all points and orders a new trial. Jurors also should have been allowed to decide whether the case involved fraud, the appeals court said. U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko had dismissed that claim.  Robert Valerian, an attorney for Magical Farms, argued the labels on the contaminated feed bags were fraudulent because they stated the listed ingredients underwent "guaranteed analysis." "The court basically said, when you put no effort into ensuring that your guarantee is in fact true, that's fraud," Valerian said.  The appeals judges also said that Boyko's instructions to jurors confused them and led to a perplexing and inconsistent damage award.  The appeals court said it appeared that jurors accepted the testimony of a witness for the farms who offered an estimate of the alpacas' worth. The jurors then "improperly and uniformly reduced those values by two-thirds due to confusion," the judges said in their order.  The value of alpacas is hotly contested. Forstner, his witness in the trial, Michael Safely, and other breeders say prize alpacas are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars -- though today a recession-flattened market has reduced prices.  Others say such values are evidence of a speculative bubble that depends on a steady influx of new buyers to prop up the business of breeding and selling alpacas, with little connection to their underlying value as fiber producers. The jury in Cleveland awarded about $1.6 million to the Medina farms at the conclusion of a three-week trial. It was a win for defendant Land O'Lakes: The breeders said they should be paid $12.1 million based on what their dead and injured animals were worth.
(Alpaca Court Case)
More links about Ohio Alpacas poisoned by Land O' Lakes: 
  1. Donaldson's Alpaca Jack's Suri Farm  Hancock Co. Findlay, OH
  2. Witkowski and Meluch  Medina, OH
  3. Birkemeier's  Cria Barn  Putnam Co.  Ottawa, Ohio

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