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Police Arrest Suspect in Fair Oaks Farms Investigation

An invesitgation remained ongoing and interviews were still being conducted, according to authorities

Authorities have arrested one of the three men charged in connection with an animal cruelty investigation at Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, authorities announced Wednesday.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that it had apprehended 36-year-old Edgar Gardozo-Vasquez in connection with the investigation. Gardozo-Vasquez is one of three men facing animal cruelty charges in the case, which spawned after an animal welfare group posted shocking undercover footage of employees at Fair Oaks Farms beating and abusing animals.

According to officials, the suspects in the case face misdemeanor and felony charges of beating a vertebrate animal, and could face up to two and a half years in prison.

Two other suspects, 31-year-old Santiago Ruvalcaba Contreros and 38-year-old Miguel Angel Navarro Serrano are still at large, according to police.

After the videos were posted, several retail chains dropped Fairlife products from their shelves, and the company issued numerous statements condemning the actions of staff and promising action to rectify the situation.

"We do not condone any type of abuse and are taking this information seriously," Fairlife said Wednesday, adding that it immediately suspended milk deliveries from the dairy identified in the video. 

"The dairy identified in the video represents less than 5 percent of fairlife’s total milk supply," the company said in a statement on its website. "Approximately 30 dairies support fairlife; therefore, we are visiting all supplying dairies in person 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. We will also continue to work with Fair Oaks Farms to ensure specific actions are taken to address this situation and uphold our high standards for animal care."

The Coca-Cola Corporation, which distributes Fairlife products, also said in a statement it has been in contact with Fairlife about the situation and has "full confidence in their management team to urgently address this issue with Fair Oaks Farms, which is a third-party supplier to fairlife." 

Calling it the "largest undercover dairy investigation in history," ARM,  said the Fair Oaks Farms video documents "systemic and illegal abuse."

(Read the full report on the investigation here - WARNING: graphic content)

“In our 10 years of being undercover, we have never seen such consistent, constant abuse to a newborn baby animal,” Couto says in the video. 

ARM, which describes itself online as a "non profit investigative organization dedicated to eliminating severe animal cruelty operations," said an investigator spent three months undercover at the Prairies Edge North Barn after being hired as a calf care employee.

“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 first round of footage was released on social media (warning: footage is graphic) Tuesday, where it quickly garnered more than 100,000 views on Facebook and over one million views on Vimeo in less than 24 hours. 

Fair Oaks Farms said it was made aware of the video's release last week, though it knew about the investigation months ago. 

The employees seen in the video have been fired, the farm said.

The Newton County Sheriff's office said it 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. 

Couto said ARM hopes its investigation will "create change."

"People need to understand that this problem isn’t going to go away by firing a few employees or even by a few arrests," he said. "You pick up that gallon of almond milk instead of regular milk and that’s where the change is made."  

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