Graphic video released by an activist group Tuesday shows workers abusing calves and using drugs at Indiana’s largest dairy operation, Fair Oaks Farms.
The Animal Recovery Mission’s four-minute, 11-second video accuses the northern Indiana farm of “daily mistreatment of the resident farm animals.”
Fair Oaks Farm’s founder Mike McCloskey admitted the abuse took place and took “full responsibility.”
Here’s what we know about the video, the group that produced it and Fair Oaks Farm’s reaction.
Video of abuse at Fair Oaks Farms
Fair Oaks has been called the “Disneyland of agricultural tourism” in Food & Wine magazine, and welcomes 600,000 visitors each year. School groups, families and other guests visit the museum, dine in the restaurant and watch cows being milked in the glass-enclosed assembly line.
ARM’s video tarnishes that clean, tourist-friendly image. It shows Fair Oaks Farm workers beating calves with metal bars, burning them with branding irons and throwing them into huts and trucks.
The video also allegedly shows marijuana being grown, smoked and transported on the farm.
Employees fired, police contacted
McCloskey, the farm’s founder, took responsibility for the abuse in a Facebook post. He said the company fired four employees and banned a third-party truck driver who were shown in video.
“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,” McClskey wrote.
“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.”
“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,” McCloskey said. “They were identified by their co-workers as being abusive of our animals and reported to management.”
Fair Oaks Farms is investigating all aspects of the the video, after which McCloskey said “disciplinary action will be taken, including termination and criminal prosecution.”
McCloskey said the worker depicted using drugs in the video was turned in months ago by a co-worker. A manager called police and made a police report, McCloskey said.
But he denied the video’s claim that marijuana had been grown and cultivated on Fair Oaks Farms property.
“The plants featured in the video are an invasive perennial species that is rampant on farms all over the Midwest,” McCloskey said.
A Wednesday post made by the Fair Oaks Farms Facebook page again took responsibility for the actions in the video. “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,” they wrote to their fans. The post also pledged to put actions in place to prevent this from happening again.
Newton County sheriff investigating
Newton County Sheriff Tom VanVleet said his office has requested the names of the people shown in the video.
“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,” VanVleet said in a statement.
Investigators are working with the Newton County Prosecutor’s Office, VanVleet said.
“We have requested the names and identifiers of those terminated for animal cruelty by Fair Oaks Dairy Farms,” VanVleet said.
“We will also be seeking the identity of the witness to the alleged crimes that failed to report this activity for some time.”
What is Fair Oaks Farms?
Fair Oaks Farms is a museum, restaurant, gift shop and hotel built around a working dairy farm. It’s located in Fair Oaks, Ind., about 109 miles north of Indianapolis.
The farm, where more than 15,000 cows are milked daily, has long been a popular school trip for kids from Indiana and neighboring states. Fair Oaks Farms attracts more than 600,000 visitors a year.
Attractions give visitors a close-up look at modern farming operations.
Connection to Coca-Cola
Fair Oaks Farms owners partnered with Coca-Cola in 2015 to produce and distribute Fairlife, a low-fat milk the two companies are marketing to the health conscious and the protein-chugging fitness crowd.
The owners of Fair Oaks Farms patented the cold-filtration technology used to produce a drink with 50 percent more protein, 30 percent more calcium and half the sugar of ordinary milk, according to a Feb. 3, 2015 article on Coca-Cola’s website. Coca-Cola and Fair Oaks Farm Fairlife and Core Power protein shakes.
What is ARM?
The activist group ARM was founded in 2010 by Florida Real Estate developer Richard “Kudo” Couto.
Miami New Times reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts described Couto as the “Bruce Wayne of animal rights,” in a story published Feb. 3, 2011.
“For at least a year, Couto, real-estate developer by day, donned a disguise, two guns and a bulletproof vest for nightly motorcycle raids of a lawless area known as C-9 Basin — ground zero for illegal slaughterhouses and Miami-Dade County’s horse meat black market,” Garcia-Roberts wrote.
Couto’s non-profit deploys undercover investigators who apply for and get hired as entry-level farm hands. These agents use their behind-the-scenes access to covertly gather video of alleged animal abuse.
One of those undercover agents gathered the Fair Oaks Farm video.
Critics have called the tactics unfair.
“The fact that ARM takes months before notifying owners or authorities regarding on-going animal abuse is concerning,” McCloskey said in his Facebook statement. “I have personally reached out to ARM’s founder, Richard Couto, to discuss a more symbiotic relationship but he has yet to reach back.”
In addition to the investigation at Fair Oaks Farm, ARM has released information documenting alleged abuse, illegal horse slaughter, animal sacrifice and other misdeeds in the U.S. and Mexico.