Warning: Some viewers may find portions of the above video upsetting. Discretion is advised.
COOPERSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A disturbing viral video of animal abuse at an Indiana farm has a connection to West Michigan.
The founder of Fair Oaks farms, seen in the video posted online by an animal rights group, also founded and supplies milk for Fairlife, a high-end, ultra-filtered milk made in Coopersville and distributed by Coca-Cola.
A number of local dairy farms supply milk to Fairlife and have already been caught in the fallout from the video. Some stores in Chicago and Indiana have pulled Fairlife from their shelves, and it may not end there.
“Go and picket in front of Fairlife corporation. Picket in front of the Coca-Cola corporation,” Animal Rights Mission founder Richard Couto said during his narration of the video.
None of the West Michigan farmers who supply Fairlife would speak on the record Monday, but some told 24 Hour News 8 that news of the abuse at Fair Oaks came as a shock. They say Fair Oaks and other Fairlife suppliers have strict policies to protect against what’s seen in the video.
Prevention methods include video cameras in and around the farms to monitor not only employee treatment of the animals, but also to make sure the animals are safe and healthy when humans are not around.
Fair Oaks fired employees caught in the video, which ARM released several months after the incidents.
On Monday, the prosecutor in Newton County, Indiana, issued warrants authorizing misdemeanor charges against the three former employees. The prosecutor says Fair Oaks has fully cooperated with investigators.
Local farmers who supply Fairlife say they are still delivering milk to the Coopersville plant.
In its own video, Fairlife COO Tim Doelman said that the dairy farms that supply the company, including those in West Michigan, will undergo additional third-party audits to make sure they’re following good animal safety and welfare practices.
“We increased the frequency of unannounced audits of farms from one to 24 per year,” Doelman said. “We will do this for you and, most importantly, for the cows.”
Fairlife also issued the following statement Tuesday:
“Like those of you who love our products, we were devastated by the abuse that was recently discovered at Fair Oaks Farms, one of our supplying farms. Since fairlife was founded in 2012, we have strived to uphold our farming values centered around sustainability, transparency and animal care.
“We were appalled and deeply saddened to learn of the abuse by several Fair Oaks Farms employees, who are now under criminal investigation. Such acts will not be tolerated, and we have taken immediate action to address the situation and to protect animals at all supplying farms, including:
- We have discontinued the use of milk from Fair Oaks Farms.
- We believe these unfortunate incidents occurred at the hands of a few employees, and we will confirm there is no systemic problem with any of our suppliers. Starting this week, we will visit all 30 of our supplying farms in the next 30 days, to be completed by July 6, 2019.
- We are increasing the frequency of our random audits to 24 per year for each of our supplying farms, all of which will be unannounced.
- We will require that all supplying farms’ employees are re-certified in animal welfare training on an annual basis.
- We are demanding our supplying farms continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse, which will result in termination of any employees caught abusing an animal and, if appropriate, investigation by law enforcement.
“In this case, Fair Oaks Farms has terminated the individuals who did not adhere to the farm’s practices. Fair Oaks Farms is cooperating with law enforcement officers, and will continue to hold anyone associated with this issue responsible for their actions.
“While Fair Oaks Farms is just one of 30 farms that contributes to fairlife’s total milk supply, any single instance of abuse is unacceptable. There is no excusing this behavior. It is wrong. It is not what we stand for, and we are now even more committed to protecting the animals that supply our milk and moving forward together.
“We are actively working on a comprehensive update to our animal welfare and quality assurance program. As part of our ongoing commitment to animal welfare, we are using this incident as a learning experience. We know we can play an important role in improving animal welfare across the dairy industry and are committed to putting enhanced practices and procedures in place to ensure this never happens again.
“This is our commitment to you.“