Fair Oaks scandal continues with new footage and abuse reports

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

Multiple videos are expected to surface depicting animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. Pic: ARM
Multiple videos are expected to surface depicting animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. Pic: ARM

Related tags fairlife Milk production Milk products Animal health Animal welfare

As the fallout from the Fair Oaks Farms animal abuse video shows no sign of slowing, a US expert says viewing animal ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ as one issue is now critical.

In the wake of the severe calf abuse​ allegations at Fair Oaks Farms uncovered this month, fairlife ultrafiltered milk has been pulled from grocery shelves across the country, and has faced consumer boycotts and class action lawsuits​.

Since the first video of calf abuse surfaced, a second was released by the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) showing abuse also targeted at adult cows. In its full investigation report​ published on June 12, ARM said the second video’s undercover employee worked at Fair Oaks Farm between February and April 2019 as a milker.

“Within the first few hours of employment, the investigator witnessed extreme and violent animal abuse. It was evident to the investigator that it was the normal way to do business at this Fair Oaks Farms Fairlife dairy,” ​the report said.

“On a daily basis, employees were observed hitting and punching cows, and using the milking claws to hit cows in the udders. Cows were also poked, stabbed, and shoved with metal tubes and broomsticks.”

The abused cows were not seen being given any medical attention, nor did the responsible employees face immediate disciplinary action, according to ARM.

Investing in 'high welfare'

Fair Oaks has not released an updated statement following the second video. Fairlife reiterated on June 12 that the company has already discontinued the use of milk from Fair Oaks Farms.

It also outlined steps​ it is taking to improve animal welfare at other farms it works with, including more random audits, improved employee training and signed accountability contracts.

“One way we’re pursuing this higher ground is to enlist an advisory council of independent experts in veterinary health sciences, animal well-being, workforce improvement, ethical farming practices and on-farm innovation.”

“Not only will the council ensure we are protecting animals, they will hold fairlife and the dairy industry to a higher standard that reflects our true values.”

Professor Jim Reynolds, a renowned US dairy welfare expert, spoke about the issues recently at a dairy research collaboration event hosted by UK groups Agri-EPI Centre, CIEL and VetPartners.

He said that the dairy industry must stop thinking of animal ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ as separate issues, “for the benefit of both animals and productivity.”

The concept of ‘high welfare’ can be achieved with compassion toward the mental and physical condition of animals, according to Reynolds, and should be regarded at the forefront of animal health.

“If we are going to use animals for purposes, we must provide them with good lives. This involves considering if the animal has positive emotions--is happy--or if the animal is anxious, afraid or in pain. The science of animal welfare has progressed from focusing on reducing bad things that happen to animals, to including what is necessary for an animal to have a good life.” ​Reynolds said.

“Providing animals with ‘good’ things such as clean, dry and comfortable housing also reduces the ‘bad’ things, such as disease and decreased production. We therefore need to bring the approach to animal ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ back together and build this into the cost of production.”

ARM said it plans to release more videos related to its undercover investigation at Fair Oaks in the future.

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