Kroger suspends deliveries from Natural Prairie Dairy amid fresh animal abuse allegations, Albertsons reviewing options

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Kroger: 'Kroger has a long-standing commitment to the humane treatment of animals in our supply chain'
Kroger: 'Kroger has a long-standing commitment to the humane treatment of animals in our supply chain'

Related tags Kroger fairlife Natural Prairie Dairy

Kroger has suspended the supply of raw milk from Texas-based organic milk producer Natural Prairie Dairy, pending the result of a FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) audit, while Albertsons is reviewing its options, amid allegations of animal abuse made by activist group Animal Recovery Mission (ARM).

Natural Prairie Dairy​ operates four locations near Dalhart in northwest Texas and according to ARM, supplies raw dairy to retailers through Aurora Organic Dairy’s bottling plant in Denver.

ARM​ – which recently exposed mistreatment of cows at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana​ – the flagship dairy supplying the high-protein fairlife​ brand – posted a report​ on July 23 alleging “extreme and violent animal cruelty​,” untreated open wounds and infections, “squalid, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions​,” and violent abuse of downer cows (who are unable to stand) at the Natural Prairie Dairy farm in Channing, Texas.

Natural Prairie Dairy – which is co-owned by Donald De Jong​ (who is also vice chairman of Select Milk Producers, the co-op of family owned farms that teamed up with Coca-Cola to launch the fairlife brand) – has not responded to requests for comment.

Kroger: ‘We have suspended the supply of raw milk from the farm for use in our products’

Some retailers supplied by Natural Prairie have yet to respond to the allegations, but Kroger issued a statement explaining that it had suspended supplies pending an audit.

Head of corporate communications Kristal Howard told FoodNavigator-USA: “Kroger has a long-standing commitment to the humane treatment of animals in our supply chain.

“Since learning about the alleged animal welfare concerns in this situation, we have shared our concerns with Natural Prairie Dairy Farms and have suspended the supply of raw milk from the farm for use in our products, pending the result of a National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program audit.”

The move was welcomed by ARM founder Richard Couto: “ARM thanks Kroger supermarkets for making the right and ethical decision in stepping aside from Natural Prairie Dairy. We are still hopeful that they will make the right decision in discontinuing relations with Fairlife brands​.”

ARM is hopeful that Kroger’s swift action will prompt other distributors including, Target, Costco and Publix​ [to take similar measures].”

Publix, however, told FoodNavigator-USA that it did not source milk from the farm: "The raw milk used to produce our milk is not purchased from Natural Prairie Dairy."

Target also told us: "Target does not source any milk from Natural Prairie Farms or any dairy from Aurora Organic Dairy."

Albertsons: 'We will determine next steps after reviewing independent audit reports'

Teena Massingill, director of corporate public affairs and diversity at Albertsons Companies, told us: "Our company maintains high animal welfare standards across all areas of our business and works with our vendors to ensure those standards are upheld.

"Natural Prairie Dairy provides a very small portion of organic milk to our supplier, which then provides organic milk to multiple large and small retailers. Though the presence of Natural Prairie Dairy milk in our organic milk products is fractional, we communicated our concerns and will determine next steps after reviewing independent audit reports and the corrective action plan established by the Validus Animal Welfare Program."

Fairlife: New third party audits ‘did not report evidence of any animal cruelty or abuse’

ARM’s report follows the release of harrowing videos​​​​​ from an undercover investigation showing animals being mistreated at Fair Oaks Farms​​​ in northwest Indiana, which used to supply milk to Fairlife, a joint venture between Coca-Cola and Select Milk Producers.

Fairlife​​ immediately suspended deliveries from the farm and stepped up audits at all of its milk suppliers. However, several retailers removed Fairlife from shelves, and the company was rapidly hit with multiple class action lawsuits​.​ 

Coca-Cola issued a statement​ on July 14 explaining that chief technical officer Nancy Quan was leading a team overseeing audits of all 30 fairlife dairy suppliers and would publish a “summary of the action steps we are taking to address their findings.” ​A spokeswoman told us this morning that the audits would be completed "in the coming weeks."

On July 19, Fairlife issued a statement​ noting that third party audits of all of its supplying dairy farms conducted by Food Safety Net Services Certification and Audit, LLC (FSNS C&A)​ had been completed and “did not report evidence of any animal cruelty or abuse.”

COO Tim Doelman added: “While pleased with the audit results, we believe in better. Therefore, we commit to constantly push ourselves towards continuous improvement… 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.”

The company did not respond to requests for comment on whether retailers that had suspended deliveries of fairlife products in the wake of the allegations had since resumed them.

The legal fall out at Fairlife

Ryan Kaiser, attorney at Kaiser Lawless LLP (who does not represent any of the parties in the cases vs fairlife et al), told FoodNavigator-USA earlier this month​ that, “I expect there will be quite a bit of fall-out from this, and there will be follow-on suits from the animal rights activist groups to come​.”​

To date, four putative class action lawsuits have been filed against Fairlife, one of which names Coca-Cola as a co-defendant. The litigants are not suing the company for animal cruelty, but for false advertising, in that consumers paid a premium for products in reliance on packaging claims that Fairlife provided 'extraordinary care' for its dairy cows, "but that these claims were false and they consequently suffered economic loss​."​

Kaiser added: “There would seem to be a good case for liability. While the term ‘humane; may be a subject for interpretation, I’m fairly confident that a jury seeing video of the abuse would conclude that the treatment was not humane.”​

 “As a class action, I suspect some of the key issues will be the exact wording of the advertising claims, the number of suppliers in Fairlife’s supply chain, and the steps Fairlife took to monitor its vendors."

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