Livestock farmers may soon find out if the best defense is a good offense in the animal welfare arena. Fair Oaks Farms, located in Fair Oaks, Ind., has posted a series of proactive Facebook posts regarding an unnamed animal welfare special interest group’s recent activities.
According to an April 17 Facebook posting and statement earlier this month, founders Dr. Mike McCloskey and his wife, Sue, announced they had discovered a group of employees had joined their operation “with the intent of doing undercover videos and misrepresenting what our practices are and who we are about.”
“It's very unfortunate because what happens in videos like this that the thousands and thousands of compassionate moments that our employees have interacting and caring for our animals never get taped — never get in these videos,” said Mike, a veterinarian by trade.
“What they get is the one-off moment, or they're showing a practice and misrepresenting it and explain it wrong, or a malfunction of some sort that's occurring that is a one-off malfunction that does cause some stress with the animals until that's corrected,” he added in an April 19 follow-up video statement. “They use these pieces to truly misrepresent who we are, and we're very disappointed with that.
Located 70 miles southeast of Chicago on U.S. Interstate I-65, Fair Oaks Farms comprises of more than 30,000 acres. There, 11 integrated self-sufficient dairy units milk a total of 37,000 cows. Established in 1999, the operation’s also been recognized as a top agritourism destination in the Midwest.
Ironically, according to Sue, Fair Oaks Farms takes pride in their focus on consumer transparency.
“It's why we opened up our dairy farm 15 years ago to the public,” she said. “We did that in order to have the conversation about what modern agriculture is all about and to answer any and all questions that the consumer and families have about where their food comes from.”
According to a company statement, Fair Oaks Farms participates in Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, or FARM, a national program focused on animal care and training for employees.
“We rigorously train and supervise all on-farm employees and managers,” Mike said. “In fact, before employment commences, all incoming employees are trained on humane animal care practices on our dairies and contractually agree to a ‘See It, Say It’ policy concerning animal abuse. We are aligned with animal rights activism groups everywhere when it comes to protecting animals from cruelty.”
While calls for additional information were not returned before press deadline, it appears Fair Oaks Farms is anticipating undercover videos allegedly depicting animal abuse will eventually be made public.
According to a Fair Oaks Farms statement, if any videos depict alleged animal cruelty are released, the operation will take immediate and corrective action toward any employee who may be found abusing animals.
“This action will include, employee retraining, probation or termination and, if appropriate, legal action,” according to the statement. “We will also take any action, including legal, towards those who knowingly facilitate any misrepresentation of appropriate practices or procedures.”
Mike also took issue with the undercover video surveillance approach, suggesting instead that concerned groups engage in open honest dialogue.
“At the end of the day, it’s about producing great products while taking great care of our animals, our land, our people in our community, and that is who Fair Oaks farms is,” he said.
Upon learning about the undercover video operation, Fair Oaks Farms voluntarily called for an immediate third-party review of animal welfare practices to assure compliance with the FARM program.
The farm promises to share the findings once completed.
“So we hope that as the videos come out, we will be addressing them, and we hope you'll continue to support our work in providing transparency and great nutrition through dairy farms across the country,” Sue concluded in the video statement.