Livestock News

Public divide deepens in reaction to Fair Oaks abuse video


As Fair Oaks Farms, the flagship farm behind the Fairlife milk brand, continues to endure social backlash after Tuesday’s release of an undercover video showing calves being kicked, beaten with metal bars, and thrown around recklessly, several Midwest grocers are making sure Fair Oaks feels the pinch on the business end, too. Those stores, which include Jewel-Osco, have begun pulling Fairlife milk from their shelves.

“Jewel-Osco is removing all Fairlife products after an undercover video was made public showing the inhumane treatment of animals at a Fair Oaks Farms in Jasper County, IN,” Jewel-Osco said in a statement. “At Jewel-Osco we strive to maintain high animal welfare standards across all areas of our business, and work in partnership with our vendors to ensure those standards are upheld.”

Another store, Family Express, says it will replace Fairlife with the Organic Valley brand.

This action is of little surprise considering the firestorm that has erupted on social media over the graphic video. Shot by the animal-rights organization Animal Recovery Mission between August and November 2018, the video appears to depict several Fair Oaks employees engaging in uncommonly cruel acts. Frankly, it is difficult to watch. ARM told some media outlets that it recorded the video at the Prairies Edge North Barn after one of its investigators was hired there.

“These are really the last true concentration camps left on planet Earth,” Richard Couto, the founder of ARM, told NBC 5 Chicago.

But even as Fair Oaks was condemned across many parts of social media — people called them “despicable” and “monsters” and showed cartons of Fairlife in the trash — there were also many defenders. 

Farm founder Dr. Mike McCloskey has made himself the face of this crisis, first appearing in an April video after he found out that the undercover video existed and then again on Wednesday evening, pleading his case with heartfelt emotion and pledging to do things better. 

“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,” McCloskey has said. He noted that of the four workers depicted in the video, three were terminated before the video’s release after co-workers reported the abuse, and the fourth worker was fired this week. McCloskey, who has a veterinarian degree, said all employees were trained in animal care and in reporting abuse to management.

Interspersed in Facebook comment threads were people vigorously defending Fair Oaks, where about 15,000 cows are milked and which has a sizable agritourism presence. They state that these actions aren’t indicative of the company and that it’s unlikely upper management knew about it. Some people have argued that the workers were coerced by the activist group or that they themselves were ARM plants. At this time, these comments appear to be speculative and based primarily on the known past deceptions of animal-rights activism.

A Facebook page, called We Stand With Fair Oaks Farms, has been created to show continued support for the embattled operation. The page’s top post is shared from Quarter Cow Vet Kellie and says:

“I refuse to condemn Fair Oaks Farms.⁣⁣ Some of you are going to read that and automatically get upset with me. You’re going to unfollow me. You might attack me. And you are going to choose not to hear what I have to say.⁣⁣ You watched the video (which is very upsetting), but did you read what the farm did about it? Did you know that the animal activists that released this video failed to follow the farms policy of ‘if you see something, say something?’ “

That post goes on to echo other common sentiments, about why, if this abuse was happening, did ARM not report it sooner? Why would an organization that claims to care about animals operate for so long in such proximity to this kind of behavior? Rebuttals suggest that waiting and releasing the video was the only way to make a big enough splash to enact change against Fair Oaks or the dairy industry in general.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana has opened an investigation, and Sheriff Tom VanVleet said he has requested the names of the people shown in the video. It’s unclear if law enforcement was notified prior to the social media release of the video.

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