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Fair Oaks Farms: Taking Responsibility

Animal Welfare and Health

Fair Oaks Farms: Taking Responsibility

The Dirt:

Fair Oaks Farms has come under scrutiny for a video showing several instances of inhumane treatment to its calves. An animal activist group infiltrated the farm to document the footage, but stood idly by instead of immediately stopping these terrible actions. Meanwhile, the farm's CEO understands the severity of this situation and has taken responsibility to better the operations of the farm, as well as the industry as a whole.

What happened on Fair Oaks Farm is surprising, unacceptable and horrifying. Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) videotaped five people, four of whom were employees, severely abusing calves. Fair Oaks had previously terminated three of these employees before the videos were released. The fourth, who was behind the video camera, was terminated after the videos were released. Additionally, there was a truck driver involved who worked for Midwest Veal, a company that picks up and delivers calves between farms or for delivery to processors. He is now banned from any Fair Oaks Farm.

A few years ago, I was so excited to hear about the partnership between Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana and Coca Cola. They created a new technology that gives us healthy nutrients, such as DHA and more protein, while reducing the sugar and fat compared to other milks.  They have committed to traceability and sustainable farming – which includes exceptional cow care.  I have never looked back.

CEO Takes Full Responsibility

It is not the challenges that define you as an individual or a company, it is how you handle them and prevent them from occurring again.

Mike McCloskey, CEO of Fair Oaks Farms, immediately took control and made a statement:

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.

While they already have a strong policy which adheres to each animal’s welfare, Fair Oaks Farms has now strengthened it further. It is due to their existing policy of “if you see something – say something”, they were able to fire the three criminals well before the videos came out. His additional policies not only will make Fair Oaks cows more protected, but this will most likely filter out to other large dairies, thus making animal welfare an even more significant focus on his farms.

McCloskey guarantees this will not happen again at Fair Oaks Farms, as he has already implemented the following protocols since the incident:

  • Invested in a 24-hour camera system at each point where animals and personnel interact. This will stream live into the public domain and the Fair Oaks Adventure Center.

  • Contracted with a third-party animal welfare company to perform random audits on his facility and expects that they will be on his facilities every other week. They will report directly to McCloskey.

  • Hired an animal welfare specialist to continually train all employees at all locations and be responsible for reporting on animal welfare. All employees will continue their animal welfare training upon hiring.

  • Working with an attorney to prosecute the employees in the video and any future animal abusers.

Changing an Industry for the Better

This fallout has caused some grocery stores to pull Fairlife from their shelves. Some people have elicited a ban on Fair Oaks dairy products, or even dairy itself, saying that the entire industry abuses their animals. This is not true. This is not the first time some twisted individual has infiltrated a company in an attempt to spread rhetoric like this.

How many of us take Tylenol or other over-the-counter anti-inflammatories? If you recall the Tylenol scare in 1982, someone replaced extra-strength Tylenol pills with deadly cyanide-laced capsules pills inside the Tylenol bottles, resealed the boxes and put them on pharmacy shelves near Chicago. Seven people died. Jim Burke, the CEO, immediately pulled all Tylenol bottles off the shelves and set the new standard for safety. Johnson & Johnson was the first company to implement triple-sealed tamper-resistant packaging. We, the consumers, didn’t reject all anti-inflammatories as a result of this disaster.

Who’s Next to Take Responsibility?

In the Fair Oaks case, there are a couple of unanswered questions:

  • If ARM has the best interest of the animals at stake, why didn’t the person behind the video camera report the abuse immediately? It is difficult enough to watch the video – how could someone film this without saying something?

  • Who was the person behind the camera? Was it one of the three employees who was fired?

  • The videos ended in October of 2018; why did it take nine months to report such abusive behavior?

We might never know the answers. What we do know is that workplace violence is a form of terrorism, in this case, on animals.

Supporting the dairy industry is more important than ever. 95% of American dairy farms are family owned. The U.S. dairy industry employs, directly and indirectly, almost 3 million people with over 40,000 farms and 1,300 facilities. Banning an entire industry because of five violent individuals just doesn’t make sense.

The Bottom Line

I choose to support Fair Oaks Farms. McCloskey and his team have implemented even more safety procedures for their animals. I have sympathy for him. We cannot control all the people in our purview. And, to be honest, we couldn't imagine that employees, whom we have trained and trusted, would abuse our animals – or other employees, for that matter. As in the Tylenol case, Fair Oaks Farms will set new standards for their industry - and animal welfare overall.

D2D-illustration Bottom Line