A northwest Indiana dairy farm has fired four employees seen in a graphic undercover video released Tuesday by an animal welfare organization showing animals being abused.
Following an investigation into the abuse, at least three retailers announced Wednesday that they would remove all Fairlife products from their shelves. The Coca Cola Corporation, which distributes the brand, said it was in talks to have sourcing from the farm in question discontinued.
The Animal Recovery Mission called it the “largest undercover dairy investigation in history” and said the video documents “systemic and illegal abuse” at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana.
“In our 10 years of being undercover, we have never seen such consistent, constant abuse to a newborn baby animal,” ARM Founder Richard Couto says in the video. ARM describes itself online as a "non profit investigative organization dedicated to eliminating severe animal cruelty operations.
(Video can be seen here. WARNING: the footage is graphic and may be disturbing for viewers)
ARM said an investigator spent three months undercover at the Prairies Edge North Barn after being hired as a calf care employee. The group noted that Fair Oaks Farms North Barn was not targeted, but rather the barn was the first farm to hire the investigator, who had applied to multiple dairy farms in Jasper and Newton Counties in Indiana.
“Employees were observed slapping, kicking, punching, pushing, throwing and slamming calves,” ARM said in a statement. “Calves were stabbed and beaten with steel rebars, hit in the mouth and face with hard plastic milking bottles, kneed in the spine, burned in the face with hot branding irons, subjected to extreme temperatures, provided with improper nutrition, and denied medical attention.”
The footage was released on social media (warning: footage is graphic) Tuesday, where it has since garnered more than 100,000 views on Facebook and more than 1 million views on Vimeo.
"These are really the last true concentration camps left on planet Earth," Couto said.
Fair Oaks Farms said in a statement that it was made aware of the undercover investigation a couple months ago and has since reviewed the footage, which they said showed “five individuals committing multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgement.”
The farm said four of the five people seen in the video were employees and one was a third-party truck driver who was picking up calves. Three of the four employees were terminated before the farm was made aware of the investigation after co-workers reported abusive behavior to management, the farm said.
“Unfortunately, the fourth employee’s animal abuse was not caught at that same time,” Dr. Mike McCloskey, co-owner of Fair Oaks Farms, said in a statement.
The fourth employee has since been fired and Fair Oaks plans to report the truck driver to the company he works for, saying “he will not be allowed on our farms again.”
“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 said in a statement. “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 on-boarding procedures and overall commitment to animal welfare – needs improvement.”
The undercover investigators also reported animals being transported to veal farms and captured footage of drug use and marijuana cultivation by employees, ARM said.
“The statement that we grow and sell drugs on our farms is false,” McCloskey’s statement read. “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.”
The Newton County Sheriff's office said it has requested the names of the employees terminated for animal cruelty as well as the identity of the witness who "failed to report this activity for some time."
"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 sheriff's office said in a statement.
It added that it plans to work with the prosecutor's office to file charges for "any criminal activity the indpendent investigation revealed."
Jewel-Osco said Wednesday it was pulling Fairlife products from its shelves following the video's release. Chicago-based Fairlife is owned by Fair Oaks Farms Founder Mike McCloskey, and uses Fair Oaks Farms as its flagship.
The farm said a full investigation is ongoing “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.”
“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,” 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.”
The video released Tuesday is four minutes long, but ARM said it plans to release an hour and a half of footage Friday.