The latest video shows conditions at Davie Dairy in Okeechobee. Previous videos shot at three other nearby dairies appear to show cows being seared by blowtorches, electrocuted, beaten, crushed and buried alive.
“These are truly some of the last legal concentration camps on the face of the Earth,” said Richard Couto, founder of Animal Recovery Mission. “These are concentration camps for animals.”
No state agency is responsible for proactively checking to see if cows are treated well on dairy farms, said Aaron Keller, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
The agency conducts quarterly inspections, but inspectors are tasked with checking for food-safety violations — not looking to see if animals are being mistreated, he said. The Agriculture Department also does not have the authority to suspend operations or seize animals at farms because of animal welfare issues.
Law enforcement takes the lead on investigating animal cruelty.
All four of the dairies received inspection scores above 85 on a 100-point scale from the Agriculture Department, according to records obtained by the Sun Sentinel.
The Agriculture Department’s website lists Davie Dairy as receiving the commissioner’s “environmental leadership award.” Larson Dairy also received that award. The Agriculture Department issued praise on its website of Larson Dairy, which was one of the four dairies investigated by the Animal Recovery Mission.
“Cows, once kept in open pastures, are now housed in barns where their comfort is assured using giant fans, water misters and lined stalls,” the state’s website reads. “The cows are under less stress, which translates into better health and greater milk yield.”
But undercover video shot at Larson Dairy by Animal Recovery Mission appears to show cows being kicked in the head and beaten.
The latest footage shot at Davie Dairy appears to show calves being dragged by their ears and tossed into a jam-packed truck, as well as distressed cows being left for dead.
An undercover investigator held a thermometer registering temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. Calves withered in the scorching summer heat in small pens.
“Imagine being cooked alive not being able to get to shade,” Couto said. “So many babies were dying in front of us.”
Representatives of Davie Dairy could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
In addition to Davie Dairy and Larson Dairy, undercover investigators also shot footage at McArthur Dairy Farm and Burnham Dairy Farm. The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the undercover videos. To date, three workers at McArthur Dairy have been arrested. A worker at Larson Dairy has also been been arrested.
Couto said the videos filmed at four dairies in Okeechobee highlight a pattern of abuse in the dairy industry. His group wants consumers to switch to alternatives, such as coconut, soy and almond milk. The group also wants to work with legislators to craft new laws to prevent abuse.
Animal Recovery Mission supported a bill in 2010 that made it a felony in Florida to buy, sell or possess horse meat for human consumption.
Southeast Milk Inc., the cooperative through which the four dairies sell their milk, issued a statement outlining the steps its taking to ensure cows are treated humanely.
Workers at dairies have undergone remedial training and monitoring standards have been increased, according to the statement.
The dairies have been placed on probation, the statement reads.
“The farms all worked to terminate and retrain employees, as appropriate, and have made changes to calf housing, reviewed protocols for euthanasia and the handling of sick or injured animals, and examined emergency preparedness measures,” the statement reads.
Publix Super Markets has suspended businesses with all of the dairies involved in the undercover investigation, Nicole Krauss, a company spokeswoman, said.
Protections for cows are also limited on the federal level, said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for the animal advocacy organization Mercy For Animals. It’s unreasonable, she said, to expect local law enforcement to conduct routine checks of farms to look for abuse.
“The absence of state and federal regulations on animal welfare is utterly irresponsible and leads to the type of abuse in this most recent investigation,” she said.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced they are withdrawing a rule developed by the Obama administration that would require livestock labeled “USDA organic” be treated more humanely.