A popular northwest Indiana dairy farm said it is "disappointed" after an undercover video was released Tuesday by an animal welfare organization showing animals being abused.
Fair Oaks Farms said it was made aware of the video's release Tuesday morning, though it knew about the investigation months ago.
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.
(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,” 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.
“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 over one million views on Vimeo.
The employees seen in the video have been fired, the farm said, but the footage has prompted an outcry from many on social media.
"At Fair Oaks Farms it is our commitment to be honest and transparent with you, the public. Many of you have reached out to express your disappointment, heartbreak and anger regarding the videos released yesterday and we want you to know that we share those same feelings and take full responsibility," the farm wrote on Facebook Wednesday. "We are currently putting actions in place to ensure that this never happens again. We’ve tried diligently to respond to you, but were unable to get to every person’s comments. As a result we will be posting a message from our founders as soon as possible. Please know that we hear you and appreciate the outreach."
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."
Read a statement issued by founder Mike McCloskey following the video's release Tuesday:
This morning I was made aware of an animal abuse video that the group Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) produced and has released to the public and the press. Most of the footage for this video was captured on one of the dairies that belongs to Fair Oaks Farms. While we were made aware a couple months ago of the fact that ARM had gone undercover at Fair Oaks Farms, and had proactively made a statement, we had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what – if any – abuse had occurred.
It is with great disappointment to find, after closely reviewing the released ARM video, that there were five individuals committing multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgement. Of the five, four were our employees and one was a 3rd party truck driver who was picking up calves. Of the four who were our employees, three had already been terminated prior to us being made aware months ago of the undercover ARM operation, as they were identified by their co-workers as being abusive of our animals and reported to management. So, in this instance our policy of cow care training – “see something, say something” – worked. After reviewing the video frame-by-frame, those three employees are responsible for the overwhelming majority of offenses seen in this video.
Unfortunately, the fourth employee’s animal abuse was not caught at that same time. Although he underwent another training session in animal care when we discovered there was an undercover ARM operation on our farm, after viewing the extent of his animal abuse, he is being terminated today.
As to the individual who worked for the transportation company, today, we will notify the company that he works for and he will not be allowed on our farms again. It is our position that any companies that come in contact with transportation of our animals, should be well-versed in and adhere to our industry’s animal welfare practices which can be found in FARM.
Months ago, when I first learned of the undercover activity, I requested a 3rd party review and we went through a re-training process throughout the dairies. While the review came back favorable, I am not letting my guard down and will institute more thorough monitoring and training so that this abuse can never happen again. This video and any future videos will be immediately handed over to the authorities for review and potential prosecution.
Regardless, 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. 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. However, as I have stated before, the fact that ARM takes months before notifying owners or authorities regarding on-going animal abuse is concerning. I have personally reached out to ARM’s founder, Richard Couto, to discuss a more symbiotic relationship but he has yet to reach back.
A full investigation of all aspects of the video is underway, 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.
The statement that we grow and sell drugs on our farms is false. 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.
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. 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.
I am and will continue to be deeply involved in the resolution of this matter, down to every one of our employees, so that I can guarantee that these actions never again occur on any of our farms.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions.
Dr. Mike McCloskey
Fair Oaks Farms