Animal rights abuses

An unidentified Fair Oaks Farms employee kicks a calf in the head, as seen in footage captured by an undercover animal rights investigator.

NEWTON COUNTY — Following the release of a graphic video showing abuse on one of the farms that make up Fair Oaks Farms, and several major stores pulling their products from their shelves, Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey said changes are coming.

McCloskey said, via a video released late Wednesday night, the farm will install cameras "anywhere there are human-animal interactions to prevent similar scenes from happening again."

McCloskey added that Fair Oaks Farms will also make those security camera feeds available live in the farm’s Dairy Adventure so visitors will be able to see every part of the operations at any given time.

On why security cameras weren't installed in the first place, McCloskey stated in the video that discussions were held in the beginning, but he thought their animal welfare training was strong enough and he wanted to show trust with his workers.

“That was a terrible judgment on my part,” said McCloskey. “The way I have to look at this is that as hard as we try, you can always end up with bad people within your organization, and this is what happened to us.”

In addition to the added security cameras, McCloskey stated Fair Oaks would hire a private auditor who would have access to the operation to make unannounced visits, every two to four weeks. He also added that they would hire someone to work solely on animal welfare issues at the farm.

“We understand that ARM (Animal Recovery Mission) may release future videos,” McCloskey said. “But we believe very strongly that all of these changes will address any future concerns."

One issue McCloskey did not address in his latest response was the selling of their calves to veal companies, which was highlighted in the ARM video and confirmed recently by Midwest Veal.

In the past, Fair Oaks officials have always stated that they do not send their calves to veal farms.

"While Fair Oaks Farms knew months ago that there was undercover activist activity, we had no idea that one of our Midwest Veal facilities was also involved," a statement from Midwest Veal read. "While the video does not show any evidence of abuse on our veal facilities, we understand that some of the images portrayed were hard to see. As a company, we take full responsibility for the images shown in our portion of the video."

McCloskey sent out a statement Thursday to the Northwest Indiana Times saying he was unaware calves were being sold to the veal industry, citing a lack of communication between the general manager in charge of livestock sales and himself.

“It was not our practice in the past ... and (I) apologize for the unintended false claim made previously," McCloskey said in a statement to The Times. "Our bull calves will no longer go to veal."

McCloskey did take "full responsibility" for some of the other issues showed in the graphic video that was released by ARM after a several month undercover investigation.

In a report that accompanied the video, ARM said it conducted the undercover investigation between August and November 2018, when one of its investigators was hired as a calf care employee at one of Fair Oaks Farms dairy operations.

McCloskey said three of the four employees shown in the video were fired three months ago after co-workers had reported them for animal cruelty. The fourth was fired Tuesday, and the fifth man shown was a third-party truck driver, who is no longer allowed on Fair Oaks Farms property.

McCloskey did not release the names of the employees who were fired. He is, however, working with Newton County Prosecutor Jeff Drinski to help prosecute anyone charged with animal abuse while working at Fair Oaks Farms.

On Wednesday, Newton County Sheriff Thomas VanVleet said his department was investigating the reports of animal abuse and has requested the names of the former Fair Oaks Farms employees and an individual who may have witnessed the alleged crimes and failed to report the activity.

After the widespread release of the graphic video showing the abuse, retailers Strack & Van Til, Jewel-Osco and Family Express announced they had pulled all Fair Oaks Farms products from their shelves.

Coca-Cola has decided to stick with Fair Oaks Farms, which is the flagship farm for Fairlife, a national brand of ultra-filtered, high-protein, high-calcium and lower fat milk that is distributed by Coca-Cola.

Richard Couto, the founder of ARM, has announced the plans to release another video Friday, which will allegedly show conversations the undercover investigator had with management acknowledging the animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms.

"This is a much greater investigation, and it's still ongoing," Couto said.