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UPDATE Authorities investigate animal abuse at well-known dairy farm

June 5, 2019
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Animal Recovery Mission said its investigation found "daily mistreatment of the resident farm animals." (Photo courtesy of VisitIndiana.com)

Retailers began pulling Fairlife products from their shelves Wednesday after an anti-cruelty investigative group released graphic video showing workers kicking and throwing young calves at an Indiana dairy farm that's a popular destination for school field trips. 

Miami, Florida-based Animal Recovery Mission said an investigator for the group secretly recorded the disturbing footage last year while working at Fair Oaks Farms, which Food & Wine magazine has called the "Disneyland of agricultural tourism." With about 30,000 cows, Fair Oaks is one of the largest dairy farms in the world.

The group said the footage shows the "daily mistreatment of the resident farm animals" at the farm's dairies about 110 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

The Newton County Sheriff's Office is investigating the case.

"Due to the many years Fair Oaks Farms has been in business, it is impossible to number the amount of calves and cows that have inhumanely died at the hands of this company," said Rachel Taylor, a spokeswoman for Animal Recovery Mission.

Fair Oaks Farms is the flagship farm for Fairlife, a national brand of higher protein, higher calcium and lower fat milk. At least three retailers—Strack & Van Til, Jewel-Osco and Family Express—began pulling Fairlife products from their shelves Wednesday in response to the video, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

Valparaiso, Indiana-based Family Express operates convenience stores across Indiana. The company said in a statement that it's pulling Fairlife products, saying "the expose of animal abuse in the Fair Oaks Farm network is chilling."

The video shows newborn calves being thrown in and out of their huts by employees, young calves being kicked in the head and the carcasses of dead calves piled together in the dirt. The footage additionally shows employees striking calves with their hands and steel rods and being burnt with branding irons.

Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey apologized Wednesday and said he took full responsibility for acts performed by farm workers. McCloskey said three of the five workers seen abusing calves in the video were fired before the video was made public and another was fired afterward. He said the fifth is a third-party truck driver who is no longer allowed on the farm.

McCloskey said actions have been taken to prevent further abuse.

"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."

A portion of the video also showed what appeared to be an employee using cocaine in a work vehicle on site, while other footage showed what appeared to be marijuana plants being grown on the property.

McCloskey described the plants in his statement as an invasive perennial species that grow all over the area.

The Newton County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Wednesday that it has requested the names of the now-fired workers and the person who shot the footage. The agency said it would work with the county prosecutor's office to determine if any criminal charges will be filed.

"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 department said in its statement.

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