Police are investigating after an animal rights group released disturbing video footage showing workers mistreating calves at an Indiana farm that Food & Wine once dubbed the “Disneyland of agricultural tourism,” The Associated Press reported.
The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) released the footage Tuesday after what they said was the “largest undercover dairy investigation in history” at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana. The farm is one of the largest dairy farms in the U.S. and produces the Fairlife milk brand in conjunction with the Coca-Cola company, according to The Indianapolis Star. The farm is also a popular field trip destination and draws more than 600,000 visitors a year.
ARM Founder Richard Couto told The Indianapolis Star that the footage was taken by an undercover investigator who was hired by Fair Oaks as a calf caretaker at its Prairies Edge North Barn from August to November 2018.
“The abuse began day one, hour one,” Couto said.
This is what the investigator witnessed, according to the group’s Facebook page:
Employees were observed slapping, kicking, punching, pushing, throwing and slamming calves; 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. This resulted in extreme pain and suffering by the calves, and in some cases permanent injury and even death.
The investigation also confirmed that male calves were being sent to veal farms, despite the company’s claims to the contrary.
The video prompted an immediate response.
The Newton County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday it was investigating the abuse, ABC7 reported. And three retailers announced the same day that they would pull Fairlife products from their stores. The retailers were Strack & Van Til, Jewel-Osco and Family Express, The Associated Press reported.
“At Jewel-Osco we strive to maintain high animal welfare standards across all areas of our business, and work in partnership with our vendors to ensure those standards are upheld. We apologize for any inconvenience,” Jewel Osco representatives said in a statement reported by ABC7.
Coca-Cola told The Indianapolis Star that Fair Oaks had stopped all sourcing for Fairlife from the location shown in the video.
“[We] support and respect the proactive approach that Fairlife and Fair Oaks Farms have taken and we continue to stay in contact with them to lend any support they need,” Coca-Cola told The Indianapolis Star.
Fair Oaks founder Mike McCloskey said he had identified four employees and one contracted truck driver responsible for the abuse in the video. He said three of the employees had already been terminated for abusive behavior, and the fourth was terminated Tuesday. The driver is no longer allowed on his property, The Indianapolis Star reported.
“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. 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,” he said in a statement reported by ABC7.
However, Couto expressed doubt about McCloskey’s denials.
“He is a seasoned dairy man and doesn’t need me to point out what is wrong with his company,” Couto told The Indianapolis Star. “He is playing the innocent bystander here, but it is his corporation and he knows what is go[ing] on.”