Fair Oaks latest activists’ target (Editorial)
Since the animal rights activist group Animal Recovery Mission released an undercover video on June 5 of incidents of animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farm, a large dairy and tourism destination in Indiana, social media has been ablaze with advocates on both sides.
The combination of a large-scale operation — 35,000 cows — and a very popular agritourism destination showing more than 500,000 people annually a true picture of modern agriculture, has fueled the continuing firestorm.
Not only did the animal rights community and animal agriculture advocates have their say but many of the millions of people who have toured the farm weighed in with either support or condemnation.
Add to that Fair Oaks’ stake in the high-protein, filtered milk brand FairLife, and all those who have picked up a jug at store’s nationwide are involved as well.
In response to the ARM video, a handful of retailers pulled FairLife milk from their shelves and Coca-Cola, FairLife’s distributor, suspended Fair Oaks from sending milk to be bottled as FairLife. The farm supplies about 5 percent of the milk brand’s product.
With the spotlight shining white hot on Fair Oaks’ owner and founder Mike McCloskey, he took the issue head on, accepting responsibility and issuing a pledge to install cameras throughout the farm monitoring employees and their animal care; have an independent auditor conduct at least 12 unannounced inspections annually; create a new position at the farm totally dedicated to maintaining proper animal welfare; create an exhibit at the farm’s Dairy Adventure Center focused on showing the public proper animal welfare practices and work with local law enforcement to prosecute the offending now ex-employees.
What should not be lost is the fact that three of the four employees in the video were fired from Fair Oaks before the farm was aware ARM had been taking video because other workers followed the farm’s “See Something, Say Something” policy to report improper behavior.
Though it wasn’t followed by the so-called animal rightist filmmaker who signed an agreement to the policy in becoming a Fair Oaks employee, the policy indeed worked without pressure from an outside vigilante group. In his own video responding to the ARM sting, McCloskey said he had initially considered installing cameras when establishing the farm in 2004 but ultimately decided that would erode the trust relationship between management and employees.
“That was a terrible judgement on my part,” McCloskey said.
It’s not wrong to trust someone until you can’t. And it’s not wrong to take proper measures when that trust comes into question. With major changes getting implemented at Fair Oaks, McCloskey, has to build and earn back the trust he’s lost.
Fair Oaks’ response, while extensive, won’t satisfy ARM and groups like it, that call for the abolition of dairy farming and all animal agriculture. Virtually no one is expecting that.
Whether or not it satisfies its customers is the true test and with so much attention due to how Fair Oaks and FairLife is structured for production, education and entertainment, certainly everyone will be watching.
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