I am currently enrolled in Auburn University's College of Agriculture set to graduate in a short time. I am majoring in Poultry Production with a minor in Animal Science. I also work on a small cow-calf operation on the weekends and am completing an internship at a chicken processing plant. I am well-versed in areas of animal welfare, proper husbandry, and have many certifications and countless hours training in proper animal handling for all manner of livestock and meat-producing animals.
Because of this, my Facebook feed and other social media accounts are often filled with farming videos, new agricultural technologies, and the occasional Peta ad. Upon opening Facebook this week, I came across the Fair Oaks Farm scandal. I typically don't click on videos depicting animal abuse allegations without first doing a little research of my own.
Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) is an organization promoting the cessation of severe animal cruelty. A noble cause for sure, but as with many of these organizations, they often seek to demonize agricultural organizations by preying on the heartstrings of individuals who know little about farming or the industry as a whole.
Often, modern farming activities are misconstrued with either adulterated information, misguiding comments, or extremely old, outdated footage. While these actions recorded by ARM in the Fair Oaks Farm were very real instances, they were isolated.
These organizations never seek to show what humane treatment of animals looks like. They never aim to showcase good handling practices. For every minute of abuse, they videoed, how many hours of proper conduct was carried out?
Upper management, supervisors, and individuals in a position to stop unacceptable behavior are incapable of being everywhere at once. In addition, when offenders know they are being watched by such individuals, they will discontinue the behavior until they are unsupervised again.
Because of this, any company that handles livestock practices some form of the "See Something, Say Something" rule. This rule, under one of its many name variations basically means if an employee of any level sees another employee participating in behavior that is inhumane, they are required to report it immediately or risk termination. The undercover videographers were at one point, employed by Fair Oaks Farm.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but that makes the ARM videographers employees of Fair Oaks Farm which men they went through the "See Something, Say Something" training, and knew they were supposed to report it, but didn't.
How many times in the four-month observation of the ARM videographers could they have reported the actions of the men in the videos? How many times did they fail to notify the company of the responsible party's actions? How many of these cruel instances of abuse been prevented had they notified management and how much sooner could the culprit have been terminated? They allowed these activities to continue to transpire until they had enough evidence to smear the dairy industry. They inhibited proper company function and they disregarded the safeguard practices the company had in place.
Fair Oaks Farm is not blameless, and these acts should not go unpunished, but boycotting Fairlife isn't the way to do it.
Sure, boycotting it will pull money away from the company until they inevitably source milk from another dairy in response to the media and consumer's cry for change, but how does this help the dairy cattle at Fair Oaks or the employees who have abided by proper animal handling? When you boycott, the responsible farm and responsible parties fall out of the public eye and the abuse goes uncorrected.
Boycotting is forgetting.
How about instead of refusing to buy their milk, you push for changes in their employee vetting processes or make amendments to their animal welfare checks. Don't let people forget about Fair Oaks, and don't turn your back on a farm because of the actions of a few. Instead of pretending the company doesn't exist, we hold them to a higher standard. Then, we will see change.
But if you simply cannot continue supporting this company, I understand. It's a hard concept to come to terms with. But remember, these shameful acts do not represent the dairy industry or agriculture as a whole. Do not stop supporting the dairy industry and the countless dairy farmers nationally.
Do not assume this is normal behavior because it isn't.
The employees in question were terminated before the release of the video campaign because a responsible employee reported them.
Do not turn your back on agriculture or farmers, and do not idolize organizations like ARM who interfere with proper business practices in order to capture the information they want.