FAIR OAKS — Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey says 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."
Fair Oaks Farms accounted for less than 4% of all calves purchased by Midwest Veal, a veal farm located in North Manchester, Indiana, according to a statement from Midwest Veal.
A video released by an animal rights organization Tuesday showed the alleged transport of calves from Fair Oaks Farms to Midwest Veal in a tightly-packed livestock vehicle, which contradicted past claims from the Newton County company maintaining otherwise.
"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," Midwest Veal's statement reads. "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."
In a statement issued late Wednesday on social media, McCloskey did not address the veal allegations, but took full responsibility for other issues presented in the Animal Recovery Mission video, which showed calves being body slammed and hit with various objects, including steel rods and branding irons.
"Watching this video broke my heart and created a sadness that I'll have to endure the rest of my life," McCloskey said. "As hard as we try, you can always end up with bad people within your organization, and this is what happened to us."
McCloskey said three of the four employees shown in the video abusing calves were fired three months ago after coworkers had reported them for animal cruelty. The fourth wasn't fired until Tuesday.
The Newton County Sheriff's Department 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, according to a news release issued Wednesday.
McCloskey said he intends to work closely with law enforcement to prosecute those accused of animal abuse. Cameras will also be installed around their farms in areas with any interactions between animals and employees to ensure there is no mistreatment.
McCloskey said the camera's footage will be watched by a trained professional in animal welfare and will be on display to the public in a planned exhibit.
"... I'm dedicating a section at the Dairy Adventure center to create an exhibit on animal welfare where I will have in that exhibit all of the training and all of the practices but also I will have screens showing the videos from these cameras with a trained individual within that exhibit but also where it's open to the public," McCloskey said.
Additional audits will occur, as well.
"I am committed to never again have to watch a video of our animals suffering the way they suffered," McCloskey said. "I guarantee you that this will not happen at Fair Oaks Farms again."
Richard Couto, founder of Animal Recovery Mission, said ARM plans to release another video Friday, which will allegedly show conversations the undercover investigator had with management acknowledging animal abuse.
"This is a much greater investigation, and it's still ongoing," Couto said.
Since the initial video's widespread release showing young calves being abused by Fair Oaks Farms employees, Strack & Van Til, Jewel-Osco and Family Express announced they are pulling Fairlife products from its shelves.
Fair Oaks Farms is the flagship farm for Fairlife, a national brand of higher protein, higher calcium and lower fat milk produced at a network of dairy farms and distributed by Coca-Cola.
In a statement, Coca-Cola said it takes animal welfare seriously and expects "suppliers to operate with the highest degree of integrity and comply with all laws, including animal welfare laws." The company plans to stick with Fairlife.
The upcoming Fair Oaks Farms event, Dog-A-Palooza, on Saturday was postponed until further notice, the company announced.
Beyond products being pulled from shelves, two rallies have been planned in Indianapolis and Chicago by animal welfare activist groups.
One rally, hosted by the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance, will be at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in downtown Indianapolis, with the exact location to be announced. Organizers said the rally will be a peaceful protest with attendees holding signs speaking out against animal cruelty.
Free from Harm, an animal rights organization, will hold a rally at 11 a.m. June 17 at the Fairlife Headquarters at 1001 W. Adams St. in Chicago. Rally organizer and Free from Harm founder Robert Grillo said the group is calling out the company for using workers as scapegoats, alleging Fair Oaks Farms has knowingly fostered a culture of abuse for years.
Some social media users have accused Animal Rescue Mission of staging the abuses, but Grillo said that's not the case. He said speakers at the rally will talk about what they have witnessed first-hand.
“One of the speakers is a person who visited the farm years ago and a worker took them to a restricted area where they saw piles of dead and dying calves and cows,” Grillo said. “The other is someone from an animal sanctuary who actually rescued a calf from Fair Oaks Farms.”
Grillo said while many have been shocked to see the 12-minute long video documenting animal abuse, he and his organization are not surprised.
“When people say activists orchestrate these things, we respond, 'No, we see it every day and it breaks our hearts,'” Grillo said. “I think it has a lot to do with cognitive dissonance. It's a cultural denial issue people don't want to face."
Check back at nwi.com for updates on this story as it develops.