x

13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Fair Oaks founder, other companies respond to animal abuse footage

A popular dairy farm for families and field trips just off Interstate 65 is now facing criticism after footage was released of alleged abuse of their animals.

FAIR OAKS, Ind. (WTHR) — A popular dairy farm for families and field trips just off Interstate 65 is now facing criticism after footage was released of alleged abuse of their animals.

Companies that use the farm as a supplier are also issuing responses including Coca-Cola.

The Animal Recovery Mission took video at one of Fair Oaks Farms properties after sending an investigator in as an undercover employee. It shows other workers at the Jasper County facility allegedly abusing newborn calves after they were taken away from their mothers.

WARNING: The video below contains graphic images that could be disturbing to some viewers.

According to the organization's report, they were thrown, pushed, kicked and even force-fed. Many of the calves died from the abuse and poor conditions.

"The beatings were done by all employees. Every single person that we worked with and that we had contact with. By the managers, by the supervisors, by the foreman, the brutality was just everywhere," said ARM Founder Richard Couto.

The founder of Fair Oaks Farms released a lengthy statement on Facebook. In that statement, Dr. Mike McCloskey said, in part, "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."

He also said that four of the employees who were caught on camera abusing the animals have been fired. But ARM said that's not enough and that the abuse is widespread.

They're now working with the sheriff's department on possible criminal charges.

Here is the full Tuesday 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 pr@fofarms.com if you have any comments or questions.

Dr. Mike McCloskey
Fair Oaks Farms

A statement issued on Wednesday said Fair Oaks Farms takes full responsibility and "We are currently putting actions in place to ensure that this never happens again."

Here is the full Wednesday statement:

At Fair Oaks Farms it is our commitment to be honest and transparent with you, the public. Many of you have reached out to express your disappointment, heartbreak and anger regarding the videos released yesterday and we want you to know that we share those same feelings and take full responsibility. We are currently putting actions in place to ensure that this never happens again. We’ve tried diligently to respond to you, but were unable to get to every person’s comments. As a result, we will be posting a message from our founders as soon as possible. Please know that we hear you and appreciate the outreach.

For any questions and concerns, please email info@fofarms.com or call 219-394-2025

Newton County Sheriff Thomas VanVleet released a statement Wednesday morning acknowledging the video and where his office is in their investigation.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office has been made aware of the video and activities depicted in the video that has been released.

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.

We have requested the names and identifiers of those terminated for animal cruelty by Fair Oaks Dairy Farms. We will also be seeking the identity of the witness to the alleged crimes that failed to report this activity for some time.

We will work with the Newton County Prosecutor’s Office to file charges for any criminal activity the independent investigation revealed.

We anticipate cooperation from both parties in this matter during this investigation.

Any suspected animal cruelty should be reported immediately by calling 219-474-5661 or our TIP LINE 219-234-7014.

Coca-Cola, which is a parent company to "fairlife", issued a statement in response to the video saying:

At The Coca-Cola Company, we take animal welfare very seriously. We expect our suppliers to operate with the highest degree of integrity and comply with all laws, including animal welfare laws.

We have been in contact with fairlife about this situation and have full confidence in their management team to urgently address this issue with Fair Oaks Farms, which is a third-party supplier to fairlife. They recognize the seriousness of this situation as their founding principles are grounded in a strong commitment to sustainability, transparency and the highest standards of animal welfare. Fair Oaks Farms notified fairlife that they immediately isolated dairy supply from the dairy identified in the video to suspend all sourcing from that location. More information on the proactive actions fairlife has taken is outlined on the fairlife website.

We fully support and respect the proactive approach that fairlife and Fair Oaks Farms have taken and we continue to stay in contact with them to lend any support they need.

"fairlife" itself issued a response that included the action it was taking:

As part of our core values of responsible farming and animal care, we at "fairlife LLC" are taking this incident very seriously. We and Fair Oaks Farms are taking the following steps:

  • Immediately suspend milk deliveries from the dairy identified in the video to fairlife;
  • Fair Oaks Farm has terminated the four individuals identified in the video that did not adhere to the farm’s stringent animal welfare practices;
  • As outlined in a letter from Dr. Mike McCloskey at Fair Oaks Farms, they have provided the video to local Indiana law enforcement to review for potential criminal charges against the individuals involved;
  • Fair Oaks Farms commissioned an independent auditor, Food Safety Net Services Certification & Audit (FSNS C&A), recommended by the National Milk Producers’ Federation, to conduct an audit of animal welfare practices at the identified farm. Those results are public and will be made available at www.fofarms.com;
  • Fair Oaks Farms has committed to conduct independent, unannounced and random audits and install video surveillance to ensure the highest levels of animal care are maintained;
  • Until these new assurances are in place, no milk from the dairy in the video will be included in fairlife LLC products.

As a result, "fairlife" also says it will visit the approximately 30 dairies that supply them "in persron and conducting independent 3rd party audits within the next 30 days to verify all animal husbandry practices at the farms, including all training, management and auditing practices."