FAIR OAKS, Ind. (AP) — Retailers began pulling Fairlife products from their shelves Wednesday as police investigated alleged animal abuse after an animal rights group released graphic video showing workers kicking and throwing young calves at an Indiana dairy farm that’s a popular destination for school field trips.
Animal Recovery Mission said that an investigator for the Miami-based animal rights group secretly recorded the disturbing footage last year while working for several months at Fair Oaks Farms, which Food & Wine magazine has called the “Disneyland of agricultural tourism.”
WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT
The group said that the footage shows the “daily mistreatment of the resident farm animals” at the farm’s dairies about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Chicago.
“Due to the many years Fair Oaks Farms has been in business, it is impossible to number the amount of calves and cows that have inhumanely died at the hands of this company,” said Rachel Taylor, a spokeswoman for Animal Recovery Mission.
Fair Oaks Farms is the flagship farm for Fairlife, a national brand of higher protein, higher calcium and lower fat milk. At least three retailers — Strack & Van Til, Jewel-Osco and Family Express — began pulling Fairlife products from their shelves Wednesday in response to the video, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
Valparaiso, Indiana-based Family Express operates convenience stores across Indiana. The company said in a statement that it’s pulling Fairlife products, saying “the exposé of animal abuse in the Fair Oaks Farm network is chilling.”
The video shows newborn calves being thrown in and out of their huts by employees, young calves being kicked in the head and the carcasses of dead calves piled together in the dirt. The footage additionally shows employees striking calves with their hands and steel rods and being burnt with branding irons.
Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey said in a statement Tuesday that four employees seen in the video have been fired and actions have been taken to prevent further abuse. A fifth person shown in the video was a third-party truck driver who was transporting calves, he said.
“As a veterinarian whose life and work is dedicated to the care, comfort and safety of all animals, this has affected me deeply,” McCloskey said. “I am disappointed for not being aware of this kind of awful treatment occurring, and I take full responsibility for what has happened. I also take full responsibility to correct and ensure that every employee understands, embraces and practices the core values on which our organization stands.”
A portion of the video also showed what appeared to be an employee using cocaine in a work vehicle on site, while other footage showed what appeared to be marijuana plants being grown on the property.
McCloskey described the plants in his statement as an invasive perennial species.
The Newton County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that it’s requested the names of the now-fired workers and the person who shot the footage. The agency said it would work with the county prosecutor’s office to determine if any criminal charges will be filed.
“We acknowledge the need for humane treatment of animals and the need to hold individuals that have gone beyond an acceptable farm management practice accountable for their actions,” the department said in its statement.
OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM FAIR OAKS FARMS FOUNDER MIKE MCCLOSKEY ON ARM ANIMAL ABUSE VIDEO:
This morning I was made aware of an animal abuse video that the group Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) produced and has released to the public and the press. Most of the footage for this video was captured on one of the dairies that belongs to Fair Oaks Farms. While we were made aware a couple months ago of the fact that ARM had gone undercover at Fair Oaks Farms, and had proactively made a statement (link), we had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what – if any – abuse had occurred.
It is with great disappointment to find, after closely reviewing the released ARM video, that there were five individuals committing multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgement. Of the five, four were our employees and one was a 3rd party truck driver who was picking up calves. Of the four who were our employees, three had already been terminated prior to us being made aware months ago of the undercover ARM operation, as they were identified by their co-workers as being abusive of our animals and reported to management. So, in this instance our policy of cow care training - “see something, say something” - worked. After reviewing the video frame-by-frame, those three employees are responsible for the overwhelming majority of offenses seen in this video.
Unfortunately, the fourth employee’s animal abuse was not caught at that same time. Although he underwent another training session in animal care when we discovered there was an undercover ARM operation on our farm, after viewing the extent of his animal abuse, he is being terminated today.
As to the individual who worked for the transportation company, today, we will notify the company that he works for and he will not be allowed on our farms again. It is our position that any companies that come in contact with transportation of our animals, should be well-versed in and adhere to our industry’s animal welfare practices which can be found in FARM (https://nationaldairyfarm.com).
Months ago, when I first learned of the undercover activity, I requested a 3rd party review and we went through a re-training process throughout the dairies. While the review came back favorable, I am not letting my guard down and will institute more thorough monitoring and training so that this abuse can never happen again. This video and any future videos will be immediately handed over to the authorities for review and potential prosecution.
Regardless, I am disgusted by and take full responsibility for the actions seen in the footage, as it goes against everything that we stand for in regards to responsible cow care and comfort. The employees featured in the video exercised a complete and total disregard for the documented training that all employees go through to ensure the comfort, safety and well-being of our animals.
It is a shock and an eye-opener for us to discover that under our watch, we had employees who showed disregard for our animals, our processes and for the rule of law. This ARM video shines a light on an area that – despite our thorough training, employee onboarding procedures and overall commitment to animal welfare – needs improvement. However, as I have stated before, the fact that ARM takes months before notifying owners or authorities regarding on-going animal abuse is concerning. I have personally reached out to ARM’s founder, Richard Couto, to discuss a more symbiotic relationship but he has yet to reach back.
A full investigation of all aspects of the video is underway, during and after which disciplinary action will be taken, including termination and criminal prosecution, of any and all employees and managers who have violated either our animal care practices or the law or both.
The statement that we grow and sell drugs on our farms is false. The plants featured in the video are an invasive perennial species that is rampant on farms all over the midwest. With that said, I am disappointed to learn of potential drug use on our properties. Months ago, the individual seen smoking by the barn and doing drugs in a truck was turned in by his co-workers to one of our managers. That manager notified local law enforcement about the drug use and, accordingly, a police report is on file.
It is with a heavy heart that I prepare this statement today. As a veterinarian whose life and work is dedicated to the care, comfort and safety of all animals, this has affected me deeply. I am disappointed for not being aware of this kind of awful treatment occurring and I take full responsibility for what has happened. I also take full responsibility to correct and ensure that every employee understands, embraces and practices the core values on which our organization stands.
I am and will continue to be deeply involved in the resolution of this matter, down to every one of our employees, so that I can guarantee that these actions never again occur on any of our farms.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments or questions.
Dr. Mike McCloskey
Fair Oaks Farms