VALPARAISO — A regional convenience store chain, which has several stores in La Porte County, has decided to discontinue offering products from fairlife, LLC after allegations of animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms.
Family Express, which operates stores throughout northern and central Indiana, released a statement Wednesday stating, “In light of the events that have recently been uncovered at Fair Oaks Farms, Family Express has decided to discontinue all products sold by fairlife, LLC (a partnership between Coca-Cola and Select Milk Producers Inc.) from our stores.”
According to the Associated Press, authorities are investigating alleged animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms, located in Fair Oaks, Indiana, after an animal rights group released graphic video showing workers kicking and throwing young calves.
“The exposé of animal abuse in the Fair Oaks Farm network is chilling,” Family Express said in their statement. “A factor in our decision was the public response by Fair Oaks, asserting the notion that this was an isolated incident. This is hardly the response you would expect from an organization that gets it. The minimizing of the graphic animal cruelty offers little assurance of change in a culture that is likely in need of fundamental retooling.”
Family Express has cancelled pending orders of fairlife/Coca-Cola milk products and will be replacing the line with Organic Valley milk products.
"Organic Valley treats animals differently,” Family Express said in the statement.
Organic Valley is a privately held company owned by a Co-op of local farmers. There are 143 Organic Valley family farms in Indiana.
According to the Associated Press, Animal Recovery Mission said that an investigator for the Miami-based animal rights group secretly recorded the disturbing footage last year while working for several months at Fair Oaks Farms. The group said that the footage shows the "daily mistreatment of the resident farm animals" at the farm's dairies.
"Due to the many years Fair Oaks Farms has been in business, it is impossible to number the amount of calves and cows that have inhumanely died at the hands of this company," said Rachel Taylor, a spokeswoman for Animal Recovery Mission.
Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey said in a statement Tuesday that four employees seen in the video have been fired and actions have been taken to prevent further abuse. A fifth person shown in the video was a third-party truck driver who was transporting calves, he said.
"As a veterinarian whose life and work is dedicated to the care, comfort and safety of all animals, this has affected me deeply," McCloskey said. "I am disappointed for not being aware of this kind of awful treatment occurring, and I take full responsibility for what has happened. I also take full responsibility to correct and ensure that every employee understands, embraces and practices the core values on which our organization stands."
The video, according to the Associated Press, shows newborn calves being thrown in and out of their huts by employees, young calves being kicked in the head and the carcasses of dead calves piled together in the dirt. The footage additionally shows employees striking calves with their hands and steel rods and being burnt with branding irons.
A portion of the video also showed what appeared to be an employee using cocaine in a work vehicle on site, while other footage showed what appeared to be marijuana plants being grown on the property.
McCloskey described the plants in his statement as an invasive perennial species.
The Newton County Sheriff's Office said in a statement Wednesday that it's requested the names of the now-fired workers and the person who shot the footage. The agency said it would work with the county prosecutor's office to determine if any criminal charges will be filed.
"We acknowledge the need for humane treatment of animals and the need to hold individuals that have gone beyond an acceptable farm management practice accountable for their actions," the department said in its statement.
—From staff and wire reports