Fairlife, Coca-Cola, hit with second wave of lawsuits over animal abuse allegations
The cases were filed after non-profit animal welfare group Animal Recovery Mission released videos from an undercover investigation of Fair Oaks Farms showing animals being mistreated, which prompted Fairlife to suspend deliveries from the farm and step up audits at all of its other milk suppliers. Several retailers have also removed Fairlife from shelves.
Four complaints* have been filed over the past two weeks vs Fairlife. The first two – filed in the Northern District of Illinois (where Fairlife is based) are outlined HERE.
The third complaint – filed in the Northern District of Georgia on June 13 - names Coca-Cola as a co-defendant, with plaintiff Eliana Salzhauer alleging that shoppers are paying over the odds for a brand that proactively touts its animal welfare credentials when in fact its cows “are the victims of horrendous animal abuse.”
“The cruelty and suffering inflicted on the cows and calves at Fair Oaks Farms—the flagship farm for the Fairlife Products—was so significant that it has led to criminal charges being brought against three individuals.”
Citing a statement Coca-Cola issued on June 6 in which it unveiled plans to conduct “independent investigations of all fairlife’s dairy suppliers,” the complaint adds:
“Coca-Cola has, at all times relevant to this lawsuit, including to this day, maintained control over Fairlife—including regulating animal welfare.”
It goes on to accuse Coca-Cola and Fairlife of of engaging in fraud, unjust enrichment, and violating state consumer protection laws in Florida (where the plaintiff lives) and Illinois (where Fairlife is based).
'A massive consumer fraud'
In a fourth complaint filed against Fairlife and founders Mike and Sue Mccloskey on June 17 in the Northern District of Indiana (where Fair Oaks Farms is based), plaintiffs Mohammad Sabeehullah and Nabil Khan accused them of "engaging in a massive consumer fraud involving the sale of milk products.
“Defendants exploited consumer desire for dairy products originating from farms that ensure increased levels of animal well-being by making their representations a central premise in their labeling strategy. Defendants executed these actions while methodically mistreating their cows.”
Fairlife milk is made via a filtration process that separates milk into water, fat, protein, vitamins & minerals, and lactose (milk sugar) and then recombines them in different proportions to produce lactose-free milk with 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and 50% less sugar than regular milk.
Founded by Indiana dairy farmers Mike and Sue McCloskey in 2012 as a joint venture between The Coca-Cola Company and Select Milk Producers (a co-op of 99 family-owned farms that was started by the McCloskeys in 1994), Fairlife rolled out nationally in the US in December 2014.
The McCloskeys are the owners and operators of Fair Oaks Farms – described on fairlife packaging as “our flagship farm.”
The brand recently announced plans to build a $200m, 300,000-square-foot facility near Phoenix, Arizona that's slated to be operational in the second half of 2020. It is also investing $85m in a new production facility in Peterborough, Ontario, also due to start operations in 2020.
Fairlife ‘devastated’ by footage
About a dozen retailers have pulled Fairlife from their shelves, including Jewel-Osco, Tony’s Fresh Market and Pete’s Fresh Market, while the Newton County Sheriff’s Office has also announced charges against three workers identified in the video as participating in the abuse, but not against Fair Oaks Farms directly.
In an email to FoodNavigator-USA, Fairlife said: “We are aware of the lawsuits and are reviewing them. Fairlife is committed to the humane and compassionate care of animals. As we previously shared, we are taking immediate actions to ensure our high standards of animal welfare are being executed at each of our supplying farms.”
The company added that it was “devastated” by the footage and had immediately suspended deliveries from Fair Oaks Farms, which it claimed supplied less than 5% of its milk.
Fairlife: ‘We’ve also received support from many retailers’
It is auditing all 30 of its supplying farms in the next 30 days and will require that all employees be recertified in animal welfare training annually. It also said it would increase the number of unannounced animal welfare audits at its supplying dairies from one to 24 per year.
“In addition to the immediate actions we have taken, we are actively working on a comprehensive update to our animal welfare and quality assurance program. 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 doesn’t happen at our dairy suppliers.”
Asked about how the incident had impacted Fairlife’s business, the spokesperson said: “A small variety of retailers have communicated their plans to remove our products until the situation is resolved but we’ve also received support from many retailers who have chosen to keep our products on shelves.”
Coca-Cola conducting independent investigations
Coca-Cola did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the lawsuit, but released a statement on June 6 saying that it was conducting “independent investigations of all fairlife’s dairy suppliers to ensure they uphold the highest standards of animal welfare.”
Mike McCloskey: Our 'see something, say something,' policy worked
Mike McCloskey, a veterinarian-turned-farmer, said he was "disgusted by and take full responsibility for the actions seen in the footage, as it goes against everything that we stand for in regards to responsible cow care and comfort."
He added that three of the four employees shown in the video had already been terminated months ago after being identified by co-workers as abusive to animals and reported to management. The fourth has since been terminated.
*The complaints are:
- Alain Michael et al v Fairlife LLC, Mike Mccloskey and Sue Mccloskey 1:19-cv-03924 filed in the Northern District of Illinois June 11, 2019. The plaintiff is represented by McMorrow Law, P.C and Bursor & Fisher, P.A
- Andrew Schwartz and Alice Vitiello et al v Fairlife LLC 1:19-cv-03929 filed in the Northern District of Illinois June 12, 2019. The plaintiffs are represented by Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP
- Eliana Salzhauer et al v The Coca-Cola Company and Fairlife LLC filed in the Northern District of Georgia 1:19-cv-02709 filed June 13, 2019. The plaintiffs are represented by Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles, LLC, Dicello Levitt Gutzler LLC And Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, LLP.
- Mohammad Sabeehullah and Nabil Khan et al v Fairlife LLC, Mike Mccloskey and Sue Mccloskey 2:19-cv-00222 filed in the Northern District of Indiana June 17, 2019. The plaintiffs are represented by Saeed & Little, LLP and Paul LLP.
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