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What We Know About the Fair Oaks Farms Controversy

With a lot happening in the days following the video's release, here's a recap of what we know so far

The controversy surrounding Fair Oaks Farms led to a flurry of social media comments, statements and responses as fallout from an undercover video showing animal cruelty at the popular Indiana dairy farm continues. 

With a lot happening in the days following the video's release, here's a recap of what we know so far. 

THE RELEASE OF FOOTAGE

The Animal Recovery Mission on Tuesday released a four-minute clip showing what it claimed was the "largest undercover dairy investigation in history." 

The footage, according to ARM, documents "systemic and illegal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms. 

“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.

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 undercover investigators also reported animals being transported to veal farms and captured footage of drug use and marijuana cultivation by employees, ARM 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'S RESPONSE

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," Mike McCloskey, founder 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 Wednesday. "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."

Fair Oaks Farms 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 Thursday, McCloskey said 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 also 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 FALLOUT

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. 

Strack & Van Til also said it will no longer carry Fairlife products in its supermarkets across northwest Indiana, according to the Northwest Indiana Times.

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." 

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."

WHAT'S NEXT

The Animal Recovery Mission 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. "The extended video also shines a light into the drug use, as well as giving a detail look into top management’s knowledge of the brutally on the calves and zero action taken upon the abusers and or aiding in the neglect of the baby animals.”

Fair Oaks Farms did not immediately address the extended footage, but did cancel its Dog-A-Palooza event scheduled for Saturday 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 yesterday 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."  

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

Still, 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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