VIDEO: Alleged abuse at dairy farm as  Publix suspends shipments


A surveillance video shot undercover by an animal welfare group at Larson Dairy in Okeechobee shows workers kicking cows in the head and torso and beating them with a steel rod inside the barn and milking stalls.

It was enough to prompt Okeechobee County police to launch an investigation and for Publix Supermarkets to suspend shipments from the dairy.

That followed Thursday’s release by Animal Recovery Mission, a Miami Beach-based animal cruelty investigative organization, of a 5-minute video taken at the dairy, one of the largest in Florida. The Larson family has been in the dairy business since 1947, and in Okeechobee County since 1971.

Warning: Video contains graphic images

» A LOOK AT LARSON DAIRY ON A BETTER DAY

In August an undercover investigator with ARM obtained a job milking cows at the dairy and “captured and documented extensive and widespread abuse,” the group said.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen said that he has known the Larson family for years and they would never allow abusive behavior.

“There will be a criminal investigation, and I believe there will be criminal charges filed upon completion of this investigation,” Stephen said, adding that the focus is on three people believed to be workers at the dairy.

Publix said in a statement Thursday that it was suspending the purchase of raw milk from the farm, which it purchases through Southeast Milk, a dairy cooperative.

» Who is the man behind the secret video of alleged abuse at Okeechobee farm?

Jacob Larson, the dairy’s owner, issued the following statement Thursday:

“We are deeply saddened and appalled by the actions in this video, which first came to our attention this morning. 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. The employee involved and featured in the video has been terminated. Further corrective action will be taken if necessary as we continue to analyze the video and conduct our own on-farm investigation.

“We are equally concerned about the manner in which this video was brought to our attention. Had the “undercover” employee brought this to our attention when it occurred we may have been able to prevent it earlier.

“Dairy farmers have the utmost responsibility to compassionately care for our animals and this is not an adequate reflection of how we do that on a daily basis,” Larson said.

ARM called the violence “disturbing and horrific” and is demanding felony charges be brought against dairy farm employees involved. It is also calling for Larson to be charged for failing to act to stop the employees actions.

Richard “Kudo” Couto, ARM’s founder and lead investigator, said the undercover employee, a man in his 30s, worked at the dairy milking cows in August and September, but became ill during that time and had to be hospitalized.

“The milking barns have teams. A shift could have three to five teammates,” Couto said. “Every single person including the manager and foreman were beating them to death. Our worker on a daily basis was verbally reprimanded for not picking up rebar and beating the animals.

“It saddens me knowing that these cows are still in the hands of such abusers. The unfortunate reality is the abusive practices we found at Larson are a plague across much of the dairy industry. We are committed to ensuring those responsible are brought to justice,” Couto said.

Couto said ARM officials are meeting with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office on Friday.

Portions of the video documenting the abuse are now publicly available at ARM’s website at animalrecoverymission.org and/or at secretsofdairy.org.

ARM also has launched a series of outdoor billboards in the Miami and Palm Beach County to bring awareness to its investigation.



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