Activists Film Horrible Animal Abuse at Second Publix-Linked Dairy Farm

Activists Film Horrible Animal Abuse at Second Publix-Linked Dairy Farm
via ARM video

Update: Arrest warrants have reportedly been issued for multiple employees at the dairy farm.

Every time Miami Beach's Animal Recovery Mission (ARM), the undercover animal-abuse investigative group led by former military contractor Richard Couto, releases a video, it gets that much harder to eat meat or drink milk from South Florida cows. This month has been a doozy for Couto. First, ARM last week released film of animal handlers at one Okeechobee farm kicking cows.

Today, the group upped the ante, releasing a second, horrifying montage from Burnham Dairy, a neighboring farm, which purports to show workers beating and whipping animals, ill cows lying on the ground in agony, and dead cows piled and rotting in a heap as flies buzz around their carcasses. Another pile contained nothing but skeletons. (Burnham Dairy didn't immediately return a call from New Times.)

"The gaudy images of abuse recorded by the ARM undercover investigator and myself are horrific," Couto says in a news release. "The long-term torture to both mother and calf at the Burnham dairy will now resonate throughout the world. We at ARM are hopeful that justice will prevail.”

Both Okeechobee farms supply milk to Publix. However, last week, the supermarket chain said it would stop buying products from Larson Dairy Farm, the first operation caught on film. Publix said it was warned that the video footage was set to be released this week, and suspended working with Burnham on November 10.

"We remain disturbed by the images and shocked by the cruelty shown toward the animals," the company said in prepared remarks. (See its full response below.)

In August, Burnham Dairy hired an undercover animal-rights investigator working with ARM, the group says. The agent secretly recorded the inner workings at the farm. The group says its videos show "extensive and widespread abuse and neglect of dairy cows on the farm."

The video pulls no punches. Terrified-looking cows stand in the rain and tremble while trapped in cages barely bigger than their bodies. Feeding tubes are shoved down their throats. And, most disturbing, dead cows are carried away in bulldozers and chucked into muddy piles.

ARM described what it saw in a news release today:
Employees are instructed by supervisors to use any means necessary to increase production. Dairy cows are repeatedly abused and tormented. As they make their way into the milking stations they are kicked and punched. Employees are filmed utilizing electric prods, long knotted lines, wet and knotted towels, belt like devices and metal clads to hit the cows. The dairy cows and calves of Burnham Dairy are forced to live in unbearable conditions. They are filmed laying in mud and water. Their holding barns are covered in urine and feces. The calves are kept in enclosures with deceased calves. The milking barns’ walls and equipment are covered in feces. Deceased cows and calves are left decomposing by the hundreds in an open field near streams which run through the dumping site.
ARM filmed similar abuse last week at Larson Dairy Farm, where cows were shown being whipped, beaten with flashlights, and kicked directly in their faces. Calves were trapped in tiny cages, and ARM's undercover agents spotted one pile of multiple dead calves.

ARM has a fairly high success rate when it comes to getting animal abusers charged and thrown in prison. Couto says he started the organization after he realized the State of Florida was doing next to zero to investigate serial abusers and illegal slaughterhouses. In 2014 and 2015, ARM busted a series of illegal horse and animal slaughterhouses operating in Loxahatchee. In March 2016, one owner of a massive horse-slaughtering farm was convicted of animal cruelty.

Here's Publix's full statement:

Late last week, we were made aware that an undercover video taken at Burnham Farms, Inc. would be released to the media this week. The video was expected to depict deplorable farm conditions and animal abuse. With this information, we made the immediate decision to suspend receiving raw milk product from Burnham Farms, Inc. on Friday, November 10, 2017. Publix is committed to animal welfare and we hold our suppliers to the same standards.

Today, the undercover video taken at Burnham Farms, Inc. was released. We remain disturbed by the images and shocked by the cruelty shown toward the animals. Over the past week, we have continued to work with Southeast Milk Incorporated (SMI) Cooperative and we have remained in close contact with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In addition, we have conducted our own, independent, on-site animal welfare assessments on over a dozen dairy farms in Florida.

At Publix, we believe animals should be treated humanely during all phases of their lives. We recognize the importance of the well-being of animals used to provide food to our customers. We also appreciate the trust our customers place in us to do the right thing, and we work hard to live up to that expectation. We remain focused on working with suppliers who share our values and working collaboratively with the Florida agriculture community to advance efforts that continuously improve the safety and well-being for all animals. 

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.