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In wake of Fair Oaks Farms animal abuse case, an arrest and a lawsuit

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- Chicago-based Fairlife, under fire after the release of a video showing animals being mistreated at one of its supplying dairy farms, is being sued for fraud for promoting the "extraordinary care and comfort" of its cows on its milk labels.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Chicago federal court by a California man who was a consumer of Fairlife milk, seeks class-action status. It names Fairlife as well as Mike and Sue McCloskey, owners of Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana where the alleged abuse took place, as defendants.

The suit comes as Animal Recovery Mission, an animal welfare nonprofit based in Miami, continues to release more videos from its undercover investigation of Fair Oaks Farms, which runs a popular agritourism business that draws families and school groups. On Wednesday the animal welfare group released a new video showing cows struggling to stand while being milked and contrasts it to the way the milking process is portrayed to visitors on the farm's Dairy Adventure tour.

In his suit, Alain Michael, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., alleges he paid a premium for Fairlife milk because of the "promise" listed on the labels, with the signatures of the McCloskeys, stating that its supplying farmers provide "extraordinary animal care" and "extraordinary care and comfort for our cows."

"But Fairlife's and its founders' promise is a sham," the lawsuit alleges, and describes footage released last week by Animal Recovery Mission allegedly showing some workers at Fair Oaks Farms abusing calves.

"As a matter of routine and practice, Fairlife's cows are tortured, kicked, stomped on, body slammed, stabbed with steel rebar, thrown off the side of trucks, dragged through the dirt by their ears, and left to die in over 100-degree heat," the lawsuit alleges. "Calves that do not survive the torture are dumped in mass graves. To add insult to injury, the abuse is rampant even at Fairlife's 'flagship farm in Indiana' that customers are urged to visit on the Products' labels."

 

The suit claims Fairlife and McCloskeys engaged in fraud and unjust enrichment and violated numerous state consumer protection laws. It seeks to include anyone who purchased Fairlife milk nationwide in a class.

Fairlife is aware of the lawsuit and is reviewing it, CEO Mike St. John said in a statement.

"Fairlife is committed to the humane and compassionate care of animals," St. John said. "As we shared last week, we are taking immediate actions to ensure our high standards of animal welfare are being executed at each of our supplying farms."

Fair Oaks Farms and the McCloskeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit or the newly released video. Last week Mike McCloskey blamed the abuse on a few bad workers and announced numerous measures to prevent such conduct from occurring again.

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