The Newton County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana has filed charges against three people seen in an undercover animal-cruelty video at Fair Oak Farms. The video, which was released last week, appeared to show farm workers kicking calves, beating them with metal bars, and throwing the animals around recklessly. Law enforcement said that the three people were charged with beating of a vertebrate animal, a misdemeanor offense.
Update: Tuesday afternoon, the sheriff’s office identified those charged as Santiago Ruvalcaba Contreros, 31; Edgar Gardozo Vazquez, 36; and Miguel Angel Navarro Serrano, 38. None have yet been located or arrested.
The “investigator” who shot the video on behalf of the vegan activist Animal Recovery Mission has not been charged.
The video has led to a divided public reaction — Fair Oaks has been heavily criticized for not stepping in sooner to stop the abuse, while others are calling it an isolated incident and not indicative of Fair Oaks’ standard operating procedure. The social media flurry has led to much speculation, including supporters claiming that the video was staged or that the people seen in it were ARM staffers. Meanwhile ARM itself has published a statement denying rebuttals such as this and saying that they are “originating out of Russia.”
ARM even found itself on the defensive, recently having to address conflicting claims of whether the abuse was reported to upper management or why it hadn’t been reported to law enforcement sooner, especially considering that the sheriff’s office considers these acts criminal. ARM also tried to explain why it waited six months to release the video:
“As the reason for why we waited so long for this release was because the Animal Recovery Mission had the obligation to investigate where the male calves were going to,” ARM said in a statement, referencing the sale of bull calves for veal. That kind of investigation takes time, the group said.
On Monday, animal-rights activists converged on Fairlife’s Chicago headquarters to protest the treatment of cows at Fair Oaks Farms and draw attention to what they called “systemic” abuse in the dairy industry. Fair Oaks is the flagship farm of the Fairlife brand.
Fair Oaks founder Dr. Mike McCloskey first appeared in an April video after he found out that the undercover video existed and then appeared again in a video last week, pleading his case with heartfelt emotion and pledging to do things better.
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 last week. McCloskey, who has a veterinarian degree, said all employees were trained in animal care and in reporting abuse to management. Their actions go against company policy, McCloskey said.
The sheriff’s office said the investigation is ongoing and that more witnesses are being interviewed.
While Fair Oaks is a working dairy farm with 15,000 cows being milked, it also has a large agritourism footprint, drawing between 500,000 and 600,000 visitors a year.