Disturbing video shows blowtorches used on cows at Florida dairy farm

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — The Animal Recovery Mission released video Thursday the group says shows abuse at McArthur Farms in Okeechobee County.

ARM held a news conference in Deerfield Beach at 11 a.m. to discuss the video. On Wednesday, they said new video also shows abuse at Larson Dairy in Okeechobee. 

The animal group says their undercover investigators recorded dairy cows being tormented, beaten and chased down with PVC piping and homemade tools.

RELATED | Animal group releases video claiming abuse of cows at Okeechobee County dairy farm

One of the tools they said included a kitchen knife attached to the end of a PVC pipe, which was thrust into the side of the cows. 

ARM said blow torches are also inhumanely used to sear the hairs off of the cows' udders as a shortcut to sanitizing the teats before milking.

The group said blow torches were aimed at the faces of cows and against their bodies in order to maneuver them.

McArthur Farms is also accused of using improper and inhumane procedures for birthing pregnant cows on site. It said pregnant cows are also being unnecessarily prodded with electrical devices during labor.

Thursday afternoon Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen announced 3 arrests in the McArthur Farms investigation and he said that a warrant is out for the arrest of a 4th person. 

"We are still conducting further investigation. We have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of video that has been supplied to us that we have not been able to go through. We have to go through that minute by minute so this case is ongoing," Sheriff Stephen said.

McArthur's milk is used in products sold at Walmart, Target and Publix.

After seeing a news release from ARM, Dean Foods said, "While we proudly own the McArthur Dairy brand in Miami, the name is coincidental and we don’t own that farm."

Dean Foods also said:  "McArthur Farms is part of the Southeast Milk Cooperative and is consequently in our milk supply. Dean Foods is appalled at the behaviors shown in the released video. We believe that providing for the health and welfare of dairy cows is the right thing to do and we expect all farmers to ensure their animals are being cared for and handled according to sound animal welfare principles. Between the video being taken and released, we recognize that SMI took ownership of the problem and is taking proactive steps with all their members to address animal welfare on the farms." 

Publix issued this response:

We were recently made aware of an additional undercover video, which was taken at McArthur Farms. We are upset by the images and disturbed by the cruelty shown toward the animals. As soon as we were made aware of the behaviors in the video, we immediately suspended receiving raw milk product from this McArthur farm. While we carry numerous products from Dean Foods Company, which owns the McArthur Dairy brand and dairy processing plant in Miami, Dean Foods does not own or control any dairy farms and is in no way involved in the management of McArthur Farms.
 
At Publix, we care about and are committed to animal welfare. We continue to work with Southeast Milk Incorporated (SMI) Cooperative and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to advance efforts that continuously improve the safety and well-being for all animals. By the end of this week, all SMI member farms will have completed animal welfare training under The National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program in cooperation with the National Milk Producers Federation. In addition, we have conducted our own, independent, on-site animal welfare assessments on over a dozen dairy farms in Florida. We will continue to conduct these audits and remain focused on working with suppliers who share our values and goals.

“As we’ve said, we take these allegations extremely seriously. We have zero tolerance for animal abuse and will make any improvements needed to ensure the health and well-being of all dairy cows. Southeast Milk, Inc. (SMI) continues to take corrective action including holding mandatory management and animal care trainings for all SMI member owners this week," Southeast Milk Inc. CEO Jim Sleper said in a statement.

"We are working closely with our members to install or improve video surveillance on their dairies and have accelerated the adoption of the newest iteration of the National Dairy F.A.R.M. Program, which requires even more employee training on farms and stricter requirements for working with veterinarians, among other standards. These actions reaffirm our commitment to our customers and consumers that animal care is our top priority," Sleper added.
  

This statement has been posted on the Southeast Milk website:

“Southeast Milk Inc. (SMI), has a zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse. As a cooperative of family-owned dairies, we know that caring for our animals is the right thing to do morally, economically, and ethically.

Our farmers are also sharply focused on producing the best and healthiest milk products from well-cared-for livestock, so our clients and their customers enjoy their farm fresh milk, every single day. 

We, like many Floridians, were deeply upset and disappointed by the recent videos showing unacceptable animal care practices on two dairy farms that are members of our cooperative. This represents a breakdown in the adherence to our SMI protocols, as well as the broader standards we hold ourselves to as a part of the dairy community.

Our organization is a participating member in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, the U.S. dairy industry’s comprehensive quality assurance program for on-farm practices. Any employee of a farm marketing its milk through SMI who is found to have violated the animal care guidelines, as well as any employee who witnessed abuse and failed to report it, should be terminated. We pledge to cooperate with the many investigative authorities looking into all allegations. We have not and will not delay our cooperation for any reason.

The farms featured in the recently-released videos have been placed on probationary status, pending the completion of any and all corrective actions deemed necessary by a third-party auditor and the FARM Program. It should be noted that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspectors reports that the many of the alleged animal welfare abuses referenced in a complaint were indeed connected to Hurricane Irma, and that the issues were addressed by the dairy owners even before FDACS received the complaint.

Recognizing that management of our member dairies begins from the top down, SMI will hold four comprehensive remedial management trainings for farm owners and operators the week of December 11th. These remedial trainings will be mandatory for all of our members and will reinforce the importance of employee supervision, cow care and strongly support the ongoing on-farm culture of continuous improvement.

SMI is also working with FARM to accelerate the adoption and implementation of the newest iteration of the program, Version 3.0, at every SMI member farm in the next six months. Version 3.0 of the FARM Program requires enhanced training of workers, stricter requirements for working relationships with veterinarians, and stronger corrective action plan requirements for farms that are not meeting guidelines and standards.

Finally, realizing that dairies are 24/7/365, always-on facilities, it is essential that farmers and farm managers are able to evaluate every part of their day-to-day operations at a moment’s notice. As such, SMI is working with all of its member farms to introduce or strengthen video surveillance in order help ensure animals are being treated respectfully and humanely at all hours of the day and at all locations on the farm. 

We need to continue to improve, not just for our animals, but for the consumers across Florida that trust us and bring dairy products into their homes every day.”

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