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USDA calls Indiana farm workers' actions 'unacceptable'

Posted: 5:22 PM, Jun 05, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-05 21:07:35-04
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FAIR OAKS, Ind. — The Indiana State Board of Animal Health is working with law enforcement concerning allegations of animal abuse and mistreatment at Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana.

Indiana State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh has directed the Board of Animal Health (BOAH) staff to collaborate with local law enforcement regarding any appropriate next steps they may take, said spokeswoman Denise Derrer.

The Newton County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation after the Animal Recovery Mission, a Florida-based animal welfare group, released undercover footage gathered between August and November 2018 after one of their investigators was hired as a calf care employee at the Fair Oaks Farms Prairies Edge North Barn.

The undercover video captured employees throwing calves in and out of their huts, calves kicked and slammed to the ground, a worker sitting on top of a calf.

The state was not made aware of the video or abuse allegations until June 4, said Derrer.

“No representative of ARM has contacted BOAH to report their concerns and findings or share video images they gathered,” said Derrer. “After watching the video, BOAH officials reviewed compliance records and complaint logs for Fair Oaks Farms. No reports of animal abuse or neglect have been filed with the agency since the farms’ founding in the mid-1990s.”

RTV6 also checked with the United States Department of Agriculture, which deferred to Indiana and local agencies.

“The actions depicted on the Animal Recovery Mission video are unacceptable,” read a USDA statement to RTV6. “USDA has full confidence that Indiana state and local authorities will investigate this particular case and take appropriate action.”

The USDA statement said Fair Oaks Farms is not a federally inspected slaughter facility, and therefore is not within USDA’s regulatory authority.

“However, any allegations of animal cruelty must be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities to ensure all animals are treated with care and dignity,” read the USDA statement.

USDA's authority to regulate the treatment of animals includes the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Animal Welfare Act. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act protects animals when they are presented for slaughter at federally inspected establishments, according to the agency.

The Animal Welfare Act allows the USDA to ensure the proper care of live animals when used in biomedical research, testing, and exhibition.

“Policies for humane handling of animals consist of a combined effort of federal, state, and local authorities, as well as private industry,” read the statement. “When animals fall within our authorities, USDA acts to prevent animal cruelty such as this. The animals depicted in this video do not fall within our authority.”

PREVIOUS STORY | Undercover video shows animal cruelty at Fair Oaks Farms, founder admits

Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey provided the following statement to RTV6 Tuesday in which he called the employees’ actions “despicable.”

“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 ( link ), 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 ( https://nationaldairyfarm.com [nationaldairyfarm.com ).

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 onboarding 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 Kudo, 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.”

The Newton County sheriff said his office has requested the names and identifiers of those terminated for animal cruelty by Fair Oaks Dairy Farms.

Fairlife released a statement Thursday night regarding Fair Oaks Farms and said it is immediately suspending milk deliveries from the dairy.