3 new arrests in investigation into dairy farm animal abuse
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The Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office arrested three people from McArthur Dairy Farm after the animal rights group, Animal Recovery Mission, released what it called “shocking video” of animal abuse at a third dairy farm in Okeechobee County.
The suspects are identified as 31-year-old Mario Hernandez, who is charged with causing cruel death, pain and suffering, a felony. Fernando Lopez-Cruz, 44, is facing a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals. Naul Dorantes-Garcia, 31, is also facing a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals. Authorities say there is a warrant out for the arrest of a fourth individual from the farm.
The sheriff's office also announced Thursday afternoon that it is looking at four farms in Okeechobee. Sheriff Noel E. Stephen identified the farms as Larson Dairy Farm, Burnham Farms, McArthur Dairy Farm, and Davie Dairy.
ARM says the video came from its own undercover investigation at the McArthur Dairy Farm.
The ARM investigator claims McArthur workers tormented dairy cows on a daily basis.
ARM said its video showed blow torches being used to sear the hairs off the udders of cows, and at their faces and bodies to get them to move.
The group says workers also chased down the cows with PVC piping and homemade shafts, which are tools that have knives attached to the end of PVC piping.
It its news release, ARM claimed Dean Foods "owned and controlled" McArthur Dairy Farm. CBS12 reached out to Dean Foods for comment.
In a statement, Dean Foods wrote:
A press release and video were issued today by an organization called Animal Recovery Mission (“ARM”) falsely stating that Dean Foods Company owns or controls McArthur Farms, a Florida dairy farm. We want to make it clear that Dean Foods does not own or control any dairy farms. While we proudly own the McArthur Dairy brand and dairy processing plant located in Miami, the “McArthur” name is totally coincidental. Dean Foods has no ownership interest and is in no way involved in the management of McArthur Farms.
The statement from Dean Foods went on to say the company "is appalled at the behaviors shown in the video released by ARM. 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. We acknowledge that SMI is taking proactive steps with their members to address animal welfare on their farms."
The CEO of Southeast Milk, Jim Sleper, released a statement Thursday afternoon:
“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.
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. ”
Up until Thursday's news conference by the sheriff's office, McArthur Dairy Farm had been the third known dairy farm in Okeechobee County to face accusations of animal cruelty. The sheriff added Davie Dairy to the list.
Just last month, ARM released undercover video showing what it claims is animal abuse at the Larson Dairy Farm and Burnham Farms, also in Okeechobee County. In the Larson Dairy Farm case, the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office arrested one person. The information identifying the three others proved out to be false, according to the sheriff's office so those warrants have been recalled. Burnham Farm faced multiple investigations by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Okeechobee County Health Department, and the Department of Environmental Protection, but nothing of criminal nature, according to the sheriff's office.
Publix issued this statement late Thursday afternoon:
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.
Walmart also released a statement regarding the video:
We do not tolerate the mistreatment of animals and we’re working with our suppliers to quickly and thoroughly investigate the actions shown in the video and to take the appropriate steps to help ensure this unacceptable behavior cannot continue. This video is hard to watch. We take animal rights seriously and have strict policies in place to hold our suppliers accountable.