By Erin Stafford
The dairy company known as Fairlife, a Coca-Cola partner, is known for its sustainability of dairy production and popular tourist attraction, “The Dairy Adventure.” However, behind the guise of ultra-filtered milk and agritourism, Fairlife stands amid controversy as videos released by Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) reveal that calves in Fairlife’s Fair Oaks Farms have been abused by multiple employees.
“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, we had no idea of what kind of footage had been captured or what—if any—abuse had occurred,” said Fairlife founder, Mike McCloskey in an official statement about the ARM video release. “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.”
In the agriculturally driven town of Fair Oaks, Indiana sits Fair Oaks Farms, one of the main dairy farms that raises calves and produces milk for Fairlife products, which are sold in many grocery stores throughout Canada and the United States. About three months ago, ARM went undercover into Fair Oaks Farms to investigate. ARM is a non-profit investigative organization that is dedicated to eliminating severe animal cruelty operations. While undercover, ARM documented videos of four Fairlife employees and one third-party employee implementing severe abuse onto the calves in the farm. On June 6, ARM released these videos to the press, causing an immediate uproar on social media.
Almost immediately after the videos inside Fair Oaks Farms were released, the founder of Fairlife, McCloskey released an official statement addressing the abuse that was seen throughout the videos. In the videos, calves were stabbed, beaten with steel rebars, burned in the face with hot branding irons, subjected to extreme temperatures, provided with improper nutrition and denied medical attention.
“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,” McCloskey said. “This ARM video shines a light on an area that—despite our thorough training, employee on-boarding procedures and overall commitment to animal welfare—needs improvement.”
The general public has been struggling with the idea that this kind of abuse could go on right under the nose of McCloskey, who prides his company on being one that ensures the comfort, safety, and well-being of its animals. “As an owner or manager of a company, you can’t always be in every place at one time to oversee your employees and production. Then sometimes employees will act in an appropriate way when their boss is around, and then act the opposite when their boss isn’t around,” said Professor John Bernard of the Animal and Dairy Science department of the University of Georgia.
“My family uses Fairlife products because of the high-protein content, but I would like to stop using the product because I want to be ethically conscious of what I’m consuming,” said Bridget Frame, a Fairlife customer. “If they are not treating the animals properly, then they’re probably not producing milk properly.” Many grocers are taking the same stance as customers and discontinuing the distribution of Fairlife products. Indiana grocers Jewel-Osco, Family Express, and Strack and Van Til have been some of the first to drop Fairlife products from their inventory.
Though Mike McCloskey is under a lot of criticism, he is taking full responsibility for the abuse that happened to the calves of Fair Oaks Farms. Since releasing the official statement and taking responsibility for the abuse depicted in the ARM videos, Fairlife has taken steps to resolve and terminate the abusive employees. Even before the videos were released, McCloskey was made aware of three of his abusive employees by some of the coworkers who turned them in, and the abusers were terminated immediately. The fourth one, however, was brought attention to a little later than the initial three employees and was terminated after the video was released. The third-party employee that abused calves, who worked on the Fair Oaks Farms grounds through transporting calves, has been reported to the transportation company he works for and is not allowed to come and work at Fair Oaks Farms ever again.
After terminating the appropriate employees, Fairlife’s first call to action was to install camera surveillance throughout the entire farm. Following this, Fairlife also made a pledge of accountability and hired animal welfare experts to be on staff full-time and oversee animal care. They will also go through third-party audits with Food Safety Net Services that are unannounced every two weeks. In order to maintain their reputation and prevent any more abuse from happening to calves, McCloskey said Fairlife will continue to repair and strengthen their practices.