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Police Search for 3 Charged in Fair Oaks Farms Investigation

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

Police are still searching for three men charged in connection with an animal cruelty investigation at Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, authorities said Tuesday. 

The Newton County Sheriff's office said Santiago Ruvalcaba Contreros, 31; Edgar Gardozo Vazquez, 36; and Miguel Angel Navarro Serrano, 38, were each charged with the "beating of a vertebrate animal," a misdemeanor in Indiana. They have not been arrested "as we are trying to locate the individuals at this time," the sheriff's office said in a release. 

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

The animal welfare group that sparked public outcry when it released undercover video showing animal cruelty at Fair Oaks Farms released extended footage Friday showing what it described as "ghastly and abominable" abuse.  

"The purpose of this hour and half long video detailing the extreme violence at Fair Oaks Farms, is to give the greater public an in-depth insight into the sheer gravity of animal abuse that takes place in the dairy industry," Richard Couto, founder of the Animal Recovery Mission, said in a statement. 

(Video can be seen here. Warning: the footage is graphic) 

Fair Oaks Farms did not immediately address the extended footage or the charges announced, but did cancel its Dog-A-Palooza event over the weekend to "allocate all of our resources to make sure an incident like this never happens again." 

Couto acknowledged criticism his organization faced for not releasing the videos and the allegations against Fair Oaks Farms sooner, saying the recent release is part of a larger investigation. 

"We waited so long to go public from this because we had to get all undercover operatives out of the field," he said. "The release [Tuesday] and the release of Operation Fair Oaks Farms is a very small portion of our investigation. This is going to go on and continue. Releases are forthcoming."  

Fair Oaks Farms has called for Couto and his organization to sit down with them for a meeting to discuss improvement efforts following the investigation. 

In a video statement posted to Facebook, the farm's founder Mike McCloskey said watching the footage "broke my heart and created a sadness that I'll have to endure the rest of my life."

"I am sorry and I apologize for the footage in this video," he said. 

He added that the farm plans to install cameras across the property to show "any animal and personnel interaction."

"It is imperative that we make sure that every part of this farm can be observed from one focal center with an individual who is trained to be watching every screen of all these cameras and making sure 24 hours a day that our animals are never suffering any kind of animal abuse," he said. 

The farm also plans to hire someone trained in animal welfare to be at the farm daily as well as have an animal welfare group do "frequent, unannounced audits" every two to three weeks. 

Couto said he welcomes a discussion with Fair Oaks Farms once ARM's entire investigation is released.

"The McCloskey family has some very tough questions to answer for," he said. 

He called on Fair Oaks Farms to "stop sending baby calves to veal," a policy McCloskey said will now be implemented. 

"Due to a lack of communication between the general manager in charge of livestock sales and myself, I was unaware that we were selling our calves to the veal industry and apologize for the unintended false claim made previously. Our bull calves will no longer go to veal," he said in a statement. 

The first round of video prompted public outcry on social media and had multiple retailers pulling certain dairy products from their shelves.

Jewel-Osco announced Wednesday it was removing all Fairlife products from its shelves after the first round of undercover video was made public. Family Express also said it would "discontinue all products sold by fairlife, LLC" from its stores. 

Chicago-based Fairlife, which is owned by McCloskey, lists Fair Oaks Farms as its flagship. 

"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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