Early in June, the activist group Animal Recovery Mission released a video.
In 2018, the group had sent a member undercover to film the goings-on at Fair Oaks Farms, in Indiana. Fair Oaks supplies milk for Coca-Cola’s ultrafiltered, high-protein, lactose-free milk, Fairlife. The video showed atrocities: cows and calves were kicked, punched, choked, and possibly burned.
The video, unlike many other similar videos, went viral, and the fallout has been intense. Multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed against Fairlife and Sue and Mike McCloskey, the owners of Fair Oaks and also the developers of the ultrafiltering process. (Fairlife is distributed by Coca-Cola.)
Stores have already begun to pull Fairlife from their shelves, including this supermarket in Illinois, stating that it is clear animal welfare standards were not being met within Fairlife.
Multiple suspects—farmworkers—have been identified, and one has been arrested. Mike McCloskey released a video stating that he had identified and fired the workers filmed in the video; his argument states that despite his efforts to institute a reporting system and create a cruelty-free environment, these employees were “bad people within [our] organization.”
This is, of course, a ridiculous argument. Animal cruelty within the commodity dairy industry is endemic and systematic; low-level farmworkers do not abuse animals because they think it’s fun. They do it because economic and efficiency pressures either force them to, or don’t care if they do.
The Animal Recovery Mission video—it’s very graphic, so we won’t link to it, though you can easily Google it if you want to—focuses on the gap between Fair Oaks Farm’s public image and its private reality. The company promotes itself as animal-friendly and progressive; it even hosts school visits. And yet behind the scenes, the cruelty exists just as much as in any other commodity dairy.
In a statement, Fairlife announced various promises. It promised to stop using milk from Fair Oaks—a strange promise, given that the founder of Fairlife is also the owner of Fair Oaks. The company promised more unannounced audits of each of its supplying farms. Another weird one: “We are requiring all supplying farms to sign updated contracts agreeing that they will terminate any employees caught abusing an animal and, if applicable, cooperate with investigations by law enforcement.” In that Mike McCloskey video, McCloskey says that Fair Oaks already had a contract forbidding animal cruelty and committing employees to report any abuse they saw, which clearly…did not work.
Fairlife, though only a few years old, has achieved widespread success in the US, in hundreds of markets, capitalizing on the trend for high-protein beverages. But the deep irony of its name may end the brand before it achieves any more.