Fair Oaks Farms Confronts Undercover Activists with Transparency

Fair Oaks Undercover 042519
Fair Oaks Farms ( Fair Oaks Farms )

One of the best-known dairies in the country, Fair Oaks Farms near Chicago, says animal activists infiltrated their workforce and spent six months recording operations.

Fair Oaks Farms is known for creating an identity around agritourism. Now, the business built on transparency is already preparing to react. It has also released its own YouTube video about it.

"It's why we opened up our farm 15 years ago to the public," says Sue McCloskey, a co-founder of Fair Oaks Farm. "We did that in order to have the conversation about what modern agriculture is all about and to answer any and all questions the consumer and families have about where their food comes from."

Which is why when an anonymous caller told them a group of recent employees was actually animal activists sent to record the operation undercover, Fair Oaks immediately began a new conversation.

"It's very unfortunate because what happens in videos like this is the thousands and thousands of compassionate moments that our employees have interacting and taking care of our animals never get to these videos," says Mike McCloskey, a veterinarian and co-founder at Fair Oaks Farms. 

While no videos have been released yet, Mike says it's not impossible that over six months the activists didn't capture moments of frustration or a break down in processes.

"What they get is the one-off moment or they're showing a practice, misrepresenting it or explaining it wrong or a malfunction of some sort that's a one-off malfunction that does cause some stress with the animals until that's corrected," says Mike in the video.

It's also why they immediately hired a third party to audit the farm.

"We even encourage our employees to come to us if they see anyone else doing anything that considers an animal welfare abuse to come and share that with us," says Mike.

Along with having transparency through hosting daily farm tours, Fair Oaks also participates and is certified through the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program for its animal welfare practices.

They're watching for what may come out, but Fair Oaks wishes more conversations would start at the front door.

"We really wish that groups like this understood that they are welcome to come and share with us their thoughts of our practices and our management and allow us to have a dialog with them where we could interchange our thoughts with theirs and I'm sure they'll teach us stuff and help us become better at what we do," says Mike .

For now, its a waiting game for one of the nation's largest dairies built on an open door policy.

The McCloskey's say all employees sign a document pledging to report abuse when they see it. They say there may be legal ramifications for both current and former workers depending on what any released footage shows.

For more on this story listen Mike McCloskey in an audio interview with with Clinton Griffiths, editorial director with Farm Journal Broadcast and AgDay anchor: