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Three Okeechobee dairy workers arrested in animal abuse investigation



Three McArthur Dairy workers have been arrested after an animal rights group turned over videos recorded at the dairy, Okeechobee Sheriff Noel Stephen said Thursday.

McArthur Dairy, one of Florida’s oldest and largest milk producers, is the third Okeechobee County dairy since November to be accused of abusing cows and calves.

Earlier Thursday, Miami Beach-based Animal Recovery Mission released video shot by its two investigators between August and October after McArthur Dairy hired them.

The arrests were made Wednesday. There is a warrant for the arrest of a fourth worker, the sheriff said.

The McArthur Dairy workers arrested on charges of animal cruelty all live in Okeechobee and were seen on the video committing abuse, the sheriff said. Mario Hernandez, 31, an assistant supervisor, was arrested on a third-degree felony charge of animal cruelty. Authorities said he struck a cow in the face with a sharpened PVC pipe. Fernando Lopez, 45, a caretaker, and Naul Dorantes-Garcia, 36, both face first-degree misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals. They are accused of hitting cows in the udders with a blunt PVC pipe.

Stephen said he met with Animal Recovery Mission investigators on Dec. 5 after they agreed to give the department time to investigate before releasing the McArthur video. In addition to the McArthur, Larson and Burnham dairies, the subject of ARM surveillance videos, a fourth dairy, Davie Dairy, is under investigation, Stephen said.

The Sheriff’s Office has hundreds of hours of video to view in the ongoing investigation into alleged abuse at the four dairies, he said. “The way these videos were recorded are very problematic and make it an issue for us to investigate,” he said.

It’s difficult to go back in time and identify the cows because McArthur has 1,100 cows, but Stephen said his office will look at “every minute” of the videos.

Last month, ARM made public videos its undercover workers shot at Larson Dairy and Burnham Dairy, two other large dairies. Helias Cruz, 50, was arrested in connection with the alleged abuse at Larson Dairy. He is accused of kicking a cow. Arrest warrants were issued for three more men who worked at Larson Dairy, but Stephen said the names they used turned out to be false.

Dean Foods, which owns the McArthur brand, said in a statement that it does not own or control any dairy farms. But the milk from McArthur Dairy is part of its supply.

“While we proudly own the McArthur Dairy brand and dairy processing plant located in Miami, the ‘McArthur’ name is totally coincidental. Dean Foods has no ownership interest and is in no way involved in the management of McArthur Farms,” spokesman Jamaison Schuler said.

“However, we are still very engaged in the animal welfare issues highlighted in ARM’s video because McArthur Farms is part of the Southeast Milk Cooperative and is consequently in our milk supply. Dean Foods is appalled at the behaviors shown in the video released by ARM.”

A representative from McArthur Dairy did not return a call for comment.

Footage obtained by ARM’s undercover investigators shows dairy cows hit and chased with PVC piping and homemade spearlike tools consisting of a kitchen knife attached to the end of a PVC pipe. These spears were thrust into the cows’ sides, and animals can be seen falling to the ground.

Workers can also be seen using blowtorches to sear the hairs off of the cows’ udders as a shortcut to sanitizing the teats before milking. Blowtorches were also aimed into the faces of cows and against their bodies to maneuver them.

The McArthur brand milk is sold at Publix Super Markets, Target and Walmart, ARM said.

Publix spokeswoman Nicole Krauss said in a statement Thursday: “We were recently made aware of an additional undercover video, which was taken at McArthur Farms. We are upset by the images and disturbed by the cruelty shown toward the animals. As soon as we were made aware of the behaviors in the video, we immediately suspended receiving raw milk product from this McArthur farm.”

Walmart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman said in a statement Thursday: “We do not tolerate the mistreatment of animals and we’re working with our suppliers to quickly and thoroughly investigate the actions shown in the video and to take the appropriate steps to help ensure this unacceptable behavior cannot continue. This video is hard to watch. We take animal rights seriously and have strict policies in place to hold our suppliers accountable.”

Southeast Milk officials said that by the end of this week, all member farms will have completed mandatory animal welfare training under the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program in cooperation with the National Milk Producers Federation.

Source: Palm Beach Post

 


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