breaking news

UPDATE: PBSO IDs victim, murder suspect in West Palm-area shooting

After the video: Dairy association tries to counter abuse allegations


Florida’s dairy industry has been in an unwanted spotlight since the Nov. 9 release of surveillance videos showing workers kicking cows at Larson Dairy in Okeechobee County.

The image portrayed is far from that of cows grazing in idyllic pastures and has the potential to harm both milk sales and economic stability of the industry.

RELATED: Three Okeechobee dairy workers arrested in animal abuse investigation

Since then, the way the animals are treated at three other Okeechobee dairies has been thrust into the public eye with heart-wrenching scenes of animals being dragged, stabbed with knives attached to PVC pipe “spears” and burned with torches near their heads.

It’s been a challenging time for Jim Sleper, CEO of Southeast Milk, based in Belleview. Southeast Milk is the cooperative that collects milk from dairies — including those in question — and processes and distributes most of the milk produced in Florida.

“The whole animal care video scenario that we are in…we have found some weaknesses and one of those weaknesses was that while the managers and owners understand stockmanship — how to handle animals, it wasn’t being transferred all the way through to all the workers,” Sleper said Friday.

“We need to do a better job, especially with the consumers of Florida and with our customers, of gaining their trust back that milk comes from animals that are treated in a humane fashion,” Sleper said.

While the dairies didn’t publicly address the allegations, after each video’s release, Sleper issued statements stressing that the cooperative has a “zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse.”

Following the release of the Larson Dairy videos, more videos shot by Animal Recovery Mission, an animal cruelty investigative group based in Miami Beach, showing similar treatment of cows and calves at Burnham and McArthur Dairies have been publicly released.

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen said this week that investigations at the three dairies, and at a fourth operation, Davie Dairy, are ongoing. The animal advocates provided information obtained by undercover workers at Davie Dairy to the sheriff, but did not release that footage to the public.

Instead of hiding behind closed doors, Sleper organized mandatory training sessions for all the cooperative’s members. Those were completed Friday in Okeechobee, where about 130 dairy farm managers and owners attended. Including sessions in Louisiana, Georgia and North Florida, roughly 270 dairymen attended the free all-day training provided by Southeast milk.

“We decided to be proactive,” Sleper said Friday. “We are trying to move forward.”

Experts from all over the country including the University of Florida, the National Milk Producers Federation and animal health professionals led the training focused on cow comfort, calf care, euthanasia, pain management, emergency preparedness and hiring. Farmers asked a lot of questions and were receptive and eager to attend, Sleper said.

Sleper said the dairy owners and managers were told to instruct workers one-on-one and properly train them. Managers need to do more than simply hand workers a piece of paper about humane animal treatment. They must make sure they understand it.

The video shot at McArthur Dairy from August through October and released Thursday was found to be especially disturbing by some viewers. A Walmart spokeswoman called it “hard to watch.”

McArthur brand milk is normally sold at Walmart as well as Publix Super Markets, Target and other stores. Southeast Milk is now segregating the milk from McArthur, Larson, Burnham and Davie so that retailers who don’t want it can avoid it.

The McArthur video shows cows being burned with blow torches on their udders, but in some cases, workers brandished the torches near the cows’ heads.

“Udder flaming” is a dairy industry practice that involves passing a large flame beneath dairy cows to burn off the hair from their udders, as way to sanitize the udders, but it must be done correctly to avoid burning the cow’s skin, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service.

A University of Florida industry guide on how to clean cows’ udders doesn’t mention the method, but recommends washing udders and using sanitizing solutions.

Sleper said he couldn’t comment on the practice, but he did call the McArthur video “appalling.

“SMI does not approve of any animal abuse,” Sleper said.

Sleper said the training sessions were designed to ensure that dairy farmers and their employees are meeting acceptable standards in animal care.

Southeast Milk is also assisting farms in obtaining and improving video surveillance so managers can more easily oversee the operations.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Fun and free things to do with kids in Palm Beach County this weekend
Fun and free things to do with kids in Palm Beach County this weekend

There are so many amazing and COMPLETELY FREE things to do with your kids in Palm Beach County this weekend.  Here are our picks for the best events. We’ve also included a few for next weekend so you can get a head start on planning. To get this weekly listing delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our Palm Beach Parenting...
Elderly woman found pushing dead body in shopping cart, Chicago police say
Elderly woman found pushing dead body in shopping cart, Chicago police say

Chicago police found an elderly woman pushing a shopping cart with a dead body inside it Saturday night, WGN reported. Police said they received a call around 8 p.m. for a well-being check, The Chicago Tribune reported. When they arrived at the scene, police said they saw a woman pushing a shopping cart that contained the body of a black...
WATCH: Man shot with Taser, arrested after fight on plane at Miami airport
WATCH: Man shot with Taser, arrested after fight on plane at Miami airport

A man was stunned with a Taser and arrested on an American Airlines flight after police say he got into a fight with another passenger. The Sunday evening flight from Miami for Chicago was delayed when Jacob Garcia and the other passenger started arguing, NBC Miami reports. Garcia, 28, was asked to leave, but refused. He then became physical with...
'The excitement faded away,' Florida school shooter says 
'The excitement faded away,' Florida school shooter says 

Police in Florida plan to have a school resource officer at every school in Ocala as students return to class for the first time since a gunman opened fire inside a school Friday morning, injuring a student. Deputies said 19-year old Sky Bouche carried a sawed-off shotgun in a guitar case into Forest High School and opened fire through a door. ...
Oklahoma climate-change denier confirmed as new NASA leader
Oklahoma climate-change denier confirmed as new NASA leader

Florida’s aerospace agency praised the long-delayed confirmation Thursday of Oklahoma Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine as the next leader of NASA, pointing to further growth coming to the private space industry. Space Florida officials said they anticipate Bridenstine will reinvigorate the industry, noting that he’s been hands-on...
More Stories