I’ve seen a lot of arguments circulating on social media concerning the videos released of Fair Oaks Farms. I want to say the way the animals in the video were being physically handled was undeniably revolting. In no way is that treatment tolerable.

However, I think it is important that the situation at hand be fully evaluated as consumers are once again being reached, and reacting in a negative sense to the entire agriculture industry without realizing that the group, Animal Recovery Mission (ARM), that produced and has released the video is an animal rights organization with a pretty powerful agenda.

They are against “factory farms,” and with Fair Oaks being one of the largest dairy farms in the U.S., they are bound to draw the attention of organizations like ARM. That is sad because transparency has always been Fair Oaks' mission and one that I have personally admired.

If you have ever visited the Fair Oaks operation, you know that they have spent millions of dollars to welcome the public to view different aspects of farming that the general consumer isn’t exposed to.

Many people on social media have been quick to condemn the entire corporation based off a few minutes of video evidence showing poor treatment by a very limited number of employees. In fact, all but one of them were terminated prior to this controversy even reaching the public.

“It is with great disappointment to find, after closely reviewing the released ARM video, that there were five individuals committing multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgment. Of the five, four were our employees and one was a third party truck driver who was picking up calves. Of the four who were our employees, three had already been terminated prior to us being made aware months ago of the undercover ARM operation, as they were identified by their co-workers as being abusive of our animals and reported to management. So, in this instance our policy of cow care training - “see something, say something” - worked. After reviewing the video frame-by-frame, those three employees are responsible for the overwhelming majority of offenses seen in this video,” Fair Oaks Farms founder and veterinarian Mike McCloskey said in a statement regarding the issue.

The fourth employee has been terminated and Fair Oaks has contacted the company in which the truck driver was employed.

I think that months of undercover research at the farm resulting in video evidence of the same employees only shows that this is not a widespread issue within the Fair Oaks organization.

“We really wish that groups like this understood that they are welcome also to come and share with us their thoughts of our practices and our management and allow us to have a dialogue with them where we could interchange our thoughts with theirs. I’m sure they’ll teach us stuff and help us become better at what we do because it is that transparency that has helped us to continue to be open with our practice and listen to everyone. It’s all, at the end of the day, about producing great products while taking great care of our animals, our land, our people in our community, and that is who Fair Oaks Farms is,” McCloskey said in a Hoosier Ag Today article.

ARM had a hidden agenda

I do not believe that most of the consumers realize how long ARM held onto the video without doing anything with it.

“Most of the footage for this video was captured on one of the dairies that belong to Fair Oaks Farms. While we were made aware a couple of months ago of the fact that ARM had gone undercover at Fair Oaks Farms, and had proactively made a statement, we had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what – if any – abuse had occurred,” said McCloskey.

Does the fact that June is National Dairy Month have anything to do with ARM releasing the footage now? Personally, I would think that if the organization's agenda is animal welfare, rather than destroying an industry, they would have come forth with their evidence immediately.

What next?

I think it is time for farmers and ranchers to get a message across to consumers that organizations like ARM have been known to intentionally get activists hired on large farms or slaughter facilities to commit these acts and record them.

It’s time to explain that large farms are not bad farms and that healthy, well-taken-care-of animals are more profitable than ones that are not well cared for. 

If you work in any facet of agriculture and this situation doesn’t scare the daylights out of you, then you like the consumer, need to step back and evaluate the entire situation at hand. The activists are not going anywhere and the industry as a whole cannot afford ongoing viral outrage.