Fairlife and Coca-Cola deal with Fair Oaks abuse fallout

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

Fair Oaks Farms is one of 30 farms that provide milk to fairlife.
Fair Oaks Farms is one of 30 farms that provide milk to fairlife.

Related tags fairlife Dairy farmers Animal rights Milk production Coca-cola company Milk

Last week, an undercover video surfaced showing severe calf abuse at Fair Oaks Farms. The Indiana-based farm supplies milk to ultrafiltered milk brand fairlife, which is a Coca-Cola Company partner. Several retailers have pulled the products from shelves in the aftermath.

The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) sent an employee undercover to work at the northwest Indiana Fair Oaks Farm in calf care for several months in 2018. Last week they released a 90 minute video​ exposing workers and managers for contributing to and ignoring animal abuse on-site.

Mike McCloskey, co-founder at Fair Oaks Farms, released a seven minute video in response to address their new ‘pledge of accountability.’ He said the company takes full responsibility for the abusive actions shown in the ARM video, and all associated employees have been terminated.

Fair Oaks is also cooperating with local Indiana police in an active investigation into the animal abuse. They plan to install cameras at all points in its facilities where human and animal interaction takes place, making the footage live and accessible to the public.

They will also hire a full-time animal welfare specialist along with commissioning an independent auditor who will “perform frequent, random and unannounced audits of the animal welfare practices at the farm.”

A need for 'fundamental retooling'

The public has not been convinced, however, calling for a boycott of products made from Fair Oaks milk, including fairlife. Local midwest retailers have already decided to pull fairlife milk from their shelves, including Jewel-Osco, Tony’s Fresh Market, Strack & VanTil and Family Express stores.

A statement from Jewel said, “At Jewel-Osco we strive to maintain high animal welfare standards across all areas of our business, and work in partnership with our vendors to ensure those standards are upheld. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Family Express said, “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.”

Like Family Express, public opinion has not been swayed to believe the abuse was isolated and only committed by four employees. A Change.org petition was started, asking others to boycott fairlife products and for Coca-Cola to end its relationship with the milk brand.

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“Abuse like this does not happen without more people at the company knowing about it. This is not ‘only 4 employees’ committing these acts and there is no telling how long this has been going on,”​ the petition said.

The ARM video also alleged that Fair Oaks employees grow marijuana on the company farm land, and use other drugs during work hours. These claims have not been verified.

Overhauling training and increasing audits

Tim Doelman, chief operating officer at fairlife, released a video statement saying the milk brand has temporarily suspended all delivery from Fair Oaks Farms and increased the frequency of unannounced audits of farms from one to 24 per year.

Fairlife also plans to work with all its supplying farms to overhaul employee training and continue requiring farms to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on animal abuse. Fair Oaks Farms is one of 30 farms that provide milk to fairlife.

“We have a long road back to earning the trust of the people that love our products and the stores that carry them. We will do this for you and most importantly for the cows,”​ Doelman said.

The Coca-Cola Company also chimed in, strongly condemning the cruelty displayed in the video and reiterating its commitment to animal welfare standards in a statement.

“Immediately, we will begin conducting our own independent investigations of all fairlife’s dairy suppliers to ensure they uphold the highest standards of animal welfare. This is in addition to the increased audits being conducted by fairlife and Fair Oaks Farms,”​ the company said.

Jim Dinkins, president of Coca-Cola North America, said, “As the world’s largest beverage company, it is our responsibility to lead in times like this. People have high expectations of Coca-Cola’s conduct and products, and we recognize that we must play a stronger role in improving animal welfare across the dairy industry.”

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1 comment

Tip of the Iceberg

Posted by chris,

Well done to ARM - but apart from terminations there should also be prosecutions and investigation into how far up the chain the knowledge of animal abuse extends. Companies such as this should be shut down permanently.

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