WARNING: The video accompanying this story has graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.
OKEECHOBEE, FLA. (WSVN) – Authorities have issued arrest warrants for several dairy farm workers after an animal rights group released undercover video showing what they described as “horrific” abuse of cows at a South Florida farm.
According to the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM), an undercover investigator posing as an employee was able to record the footage at Larson Dairy Farm in Okeechobee, one of the largest milk farms in Florida
“What we are about to witness is a typical day for a typical dairy cow at the Larson Dairy,” an investigator is heard saying in the video released on Thursday.
Workers could be seen in the video hitting the cows with metal rods and towels, as well as punching and kicking them in the head in an effort to herd them so the animals could be milked.
“It was such a brutal beating. That worker should have been automatically fired, OK?” said ARM founder Richard Couto. “Law enforcement should have been called at that very moment. Arrests should have been made. They were not.”
According to ARM, footage of the abuse was captured by an investigator who gained employment at the farm. Over a three-week period, they “documented the extensive and widespread abuse.”
Couto said what these animals were exposed to is nothing short of torture. “They’re being beaten, from the holding barns to the milking barns,” he said. “They’re being beaten to get into position at the milking station. They’re being beaten, chased and tormented back into the holding barns. This happens three times a day.”
“We have been in other dairies in the State of Florida. We have been in other dairies in the United States. What we have never seen – ever – while undercover, is steel construction rebar used on animals,” Couto added. “We have never seen that. This is how those animals are being controlled, and that is obvious through our video. It’s unnecessary. The torture was unnecessary.”
At least one Larson Dairy employee has been fired and two others have been suspended after the footage surfaced.
ARM said they showed the video to the prosecutor in Okeechobee, who then referred them to the sheriff’s office.
“Absolutely, there will be a criminal investigation,” said Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen, “and I believe that there will be criminal charges that will be forthcoming upon the completion of this investigation.”
The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office issued warrants for the suspects Thursday afternoon, saying the men involved “are actively being sought.”
Stephen said he knows the farm owners personally and cannot imagine they would stand for this kind of treatment of their animals. “I know three generations of Larsons that have run this operation, and I stand here before you to say that any one of those three gentlemen would not accept this kind of conduct from any employee or anybody under their captain.”
Larson Farms owner Jacob Larson released the following statement to 7News:
“We are deeply saddened and appalled by the actions witnessed 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 an 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.”
Couto indicated the abuse at the farm is widespread. “We witnessed hardcore abuse from every single worker on that line,” he said.
A spokesperson for Publix Super Markets, Inc., one of the companies serviced by Larson Farm, released a statement that reads in part, “Like you, we are disturbed by the images and shocked by the cruelty shown toward the animals. We are suspending raw film deliveries from that farm. At Publix, we care about and are committed to animal welfare and are focused on working with suppliers who share the same goals.”
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