Fair Oaks Farms under investigation by Newton County Sheriff’s Office

FAIR OAKS, Ind. -- We have new information in the animal cruelty investigation involving Fair Oaks Farms.

A nonprofit called Animal Recovery Mission released disturbing video showing the abuse, and now the Newton County Sheriff’s Office is looking for the former employees who were caught on camera.

On Wednesday, a protester joined tourists at Fair Oaks Farms in northern Indiana.

"I will never support them, ever," protester Tonya Webb said.

CBS4 spoke Wednesday with Richard Couto, the founder of animal activist group Animal Recovery Mission, about how and why this video came to be.

"The calves in front our worker were being beaten, punched, stabbed, and beaten. They were being thrown and stepped on in the ground," Couto said.

Couto said he visited Fair Oaks Farms himself last year and wanted to see what guests of the popular tourist spot don’t see.

He said he sent in a private investigator, who was hired as a calf-care employee from August 2018 until November 2018, to record what happens behind the scenes.

"The animal abuse began day one, hour one of our employment at Fair Oaks Farms," Couto said.

We reached out to Fair Oaks Farms Wednesday, but they’re not saying anything beyond a lengthy statement in which founder Mike McCloskey said, “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 video was a shock and an eye opener  to see employees who showed disregard for our animals, our processes and for the rule of law under their watch."

The statement also mentions cow-care training for employees, which Couto claims never happened for his private investigator.

"The only thing we were ever trained on was when we picked up dead cows, to take back roads to the dump site so the possible tourists at dairy adventure wouldn’t see them," Couto said.

In his statement, McCloskey did question why ARM Investigations waited several months to release the video of the alleged abuse.

"That puts our investigators in jeopardy. We could not go public with this nor go to the sheriff’s office till all investigators were out,"  Couto said.

Fair Oaks Farms identified five people in the video.

Four are employees who have all been fired. The fifth is employed by a third party trucking company.

The video and all people involved are now under investigation by the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

ARM Investigations plan to release an hour and a half video with more alleged abuse on it this Friday.

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health released the following statement about the abuse:

On June 4, 2019, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) was made aware of a video released online by the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) alleging animal abuse and mistreatment at Fair Oaks Farms. The video was brought to our attention through media, social media and concerned citizens. No representative of ARM has contacted BOAH to report their concerns and findings or share video images they gathered. 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. Indiana State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM has directed BOAH staff to collaborate with local law enforcement regarding any appropriate next steps they may take.

The Fairlife label, Coca-Cola Corporation also produces, markets, and distributes milk products, both domestically and internationally with Fair Oaks Farms. They released the following statement:

At The Coca-Cola Company, we take animal welfare very seriously. We expect our suppliers to operate with the highest degree of integrity and comply with all laws, including animal welfare laws.

We have been in contact with fairlife about this situation and have full confidence in their management team to urgently address this issue with Fair Oaks Farms, which is a third-party supplier to fairlife. They recognize the seriousness of this situation as their founding principles are grounded in a strong commitment to sustainability, transparency and the highest standards of animal welfare.  Fair Oaks Farms notified fairlife that they immediately isolated dairy supply from the dairy identified in the video to suspend all sourcing from that location.  More information on the proactive actions fairlife has taken is outlined on the fairlife website.

We fully support and respect the proactive approach that fairlife and Fair Oaks Farms have taken and we continue to stay in contact with them to lend any support they need.

A USDA spokesperson released the following statement on the matter:

The actions depicted on the Animal Recovery Mission video are unacceptable. USDA has full confidence that Indiana state and local authorities will investigate this particular case and take appropriate action.

The cows shown in the video were not in federally inspected slaughter facilities and therefore 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.

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. The Animal Welfare Act allows us 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.  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.

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