Activists release video of abuse on Florida dairy
Larson Dairy Farm located in Okeechobee, Fla., is making national headlines this month after a called the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) released video footage revealing abuse to the dairy cattle in one of the milking barns.
According to an ARM report, which was submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Okeechobee Code Enforcement and other Okeechobee town officials, “Between August and September of 2017, an ARM investigator was hired by Larson Dairy Barn No. 5 as a dairy milker. The ARM investigator was issued and utilized surveillance equipment (no audio) to capture the violations noted within this report. It should be noted that Larson Dairy was not specifically targeted. An investigator was sent to multiple dairy farms in Okeechobee County. Larson Dairy was the first farm to hire the investigator. The contractor has witnessed brutality that is far beyond what he has witnessed at other dairies which he is contracted by as well.”
The ARM report detailed the alleged abuses witnessed by the investigators, and the animal rights organization is calling for Larson Dairy Farm owner Jacob Larson to be charged with a third degree felony. Additionally, the group is seeking charges against a couple of employees at the dairy for tormenting in a cruel and inhumane manner and committing acts of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor of the first degree.
The dairy industry has responded to these allegations with an investigation of its own.
“NMPF and its National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program were notified by Southeast Milk (SMI) on Nov. 9, 2017, of allegations of improper animal care practices on one of its member farms,” said Emily Yeiser Stepp, FARM Animal Care Program director, in a statement. “The FARM Program staff began gathering and reviewing evidence relating to reports of animal abuse on the dairy farm. The sole source of the abuse allegations is a video created by animal activist organization Animal Recovery Mission.”
The FARM Program immediately activated its own thorough investigation, including a third-party audit, and placed Larson Dairy Farm on probationary status, pending the completion of the investigation.
“The National Dairy FARM Program, available to all producers, establishes an on-farm animal well-being program and third-party verification system that demonstrates farmers’ commitment to the highest standards of animal care,” Yeiser Stepp said. “Today, 98 percent of the domestic milk supply is enrolled in FARM.”
Meanwhile, Larson Dairy Farm is experiencing financial losses after Publix, a large supermarket chain, suspended purchasing agreements for raw milk from the dairy.
Following the release of the video footage, Larson told the Associated Press, “The unusual use of force is simply unacceptable on our dairy or on any other farm. We have strict protocols involving animal care and clearly the behavior shown in this video goes against everything we stand for and will not be tolerated.”
Larson added that he wished the investigator had reported the incident as he witnessed it. He said, “Had the ‘undercover’ employee brought this to our attention when it occurred, we may have been able to prevent it earlier.”
The video showed three men slapping and kicking the cows, punching them in the udders and striking them with a construction rebar. Warrants were issued for Omar Jimenes Mendosa (36), Omar Guadalupe Mendosa (29), an unnamed 17-year old juvenile, and Helias Cruz (49). As of Nov. 17, one arrest had already been made, according to the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.
Although ARM wishes for charges to be made against Larson, according to the Sun Sentinel, “Sheriff Noel Stephen said last week that he knew the Larson family well and doubted they knew about the abuse, saying it was likely confined to the employees on the floor.”
Larson Dairy Farm is a well-respected operation in Florida. The Larson family has worked closely with Florida Atlantic University, with college students visiting the farm for hands-on learning experiences.
“I know the man for five or six years and I can’t say enough about his integrity,” said Glen Gillard, adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University, in an interview with CBS12. “His focus on the animal is most important. A happy content animal is a productive animal. I have seen other herdsmen who work for Larson dairy and there is a compassion. I’ve been in the business long enough to know if animals are stressed or not being treated properly. You see it in their eyes and their body language, and you don’t see it.”
Past employees and area residents have also spoken out to support Larson and his dairy business, citing his kindness, passion for his dairy cattle and commitment to the business.
Many argue that animal rights activists, in their pursuit of headlines and donations, seek to demonize dairy farms and even plant or create events of abuse in order to further their agendas. That’s why organizations like NMPF and FARM are conducting their own investigations instead of going off of a single video footage obtained by an undercover activist operating under false pretenses.
“There are several issues in regard to activists’ videos,” said Ashley Messing Kennedy, a dairy farmer from Ubly, Mich. “First, what is spread around is often an edited video. As of right now, we do not know if this video has been edited. When these cases go to court, we often find out there is little to no abuse. The abuse tends to be from one or two people that the farm owner didn’t know were abusing the cows. The other issue is that an undercover activist is hiding out, recording these acts but not reporting them. They choose to allow this to continue instead of doing the right thing.”
Messing Kennedy says the FARM Program is also an asset to the dairy industry with regular inspections focusing on animal welfare and care. With ample resources to educate, train and recruit qualified employees, FARM is one way to show consumers the dairy industry’s commitment to animal welfare, and many cooperatives who purchase milk from farms even require dairies to be part of it.
— Radke is a cattle rancher, freelance writer and agricultural speaker from Mitchell, S.D. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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