The dairy industry is familiar with addressing animal care after undercover animal cruelty videos are released to the public. In April, the dairy farmers at Fair Oaks Farms (creators of Fairlife milk) in northwestern Indiana, were made aware of an undercover investigation that had reportedly taken videos of animal abuse on their farm. At the time, Fair Oaks Farms decided to tackle the claim head on and released a video addressing the claim and invited the public to an open discussion.
On June 4, nearly two months later, the animal-rights activist organization Animal Recovery Mission released a video of the suspected abuse. (Warning: graphic content.) The video depicts calves being kicked, beaten with metal bars, thrown around recklessly, and the bodies of dead calves being piled together. The backlash from the public has been swift and harsh.
The ARM video prompted the Newton County Sheriff’s Office to open an investigation. Sheriff Tom VanVleet said he has requested the names of the people shown in the video.
Update at 11:15 a.m. ET June 6: Fair Oaks Farms has posted a video response, this time centered entirely on farm founder Dr. Mike McCloskey.
McCloskey released an official statement after ARM’s video was made public.
In it he said, “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.”
McCloskey continued, “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.”
McCloskey has pledged a full investigation and said he has reached out to the founder of Animal Recovery Mission to have a discussion. McCloskey did dispute one aspect of the video, in which it alleged that he grew and sold drugs on the farm. He said that the plants highlighted in the video were an invasive perennial species.
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. Fair Oaks has long held a wholesome image, one in which is now noticeably tarnished.
Animal care is of upmost importance to most farmers and ranchers. If animals are your source of income, it is best to treat them in the most humane way as possible. Many will ask whether this farm is an example of one bad apple in the industry or something larger? No matter what the farming community’s reply is to that question, the public will make up its own mind.