CHICAGO (CN) – Dairy consumers claim in two federal class actions that milk producer Fairlife promotes the “extraordinary care and comfort” of its cows on its product labels but its flagship farm actually ran an inhumane operation where employees beat, burned and starved to death cows and young calves.
According to the two complaints filed Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago federal court, a nonprofit animal welfare watchdog investigated and recorded the horrific treatment of calves and cows by employees at Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana and posted the expose online last week.
“Animal Recovery Mission observed employees throwing, slapping, and kicking calves and took video recordings of the conduct witnessed,” one of the lawsuits states. “Animal Recovery Mission further witnessed young calves being starved to death, beaten with steel bars, and burned with branding irons.”
Members of the watchdog group also allegedly witnessed farm employees shooting cows and leaving them to die, which sometimes takes several hours.
The first class action, led by plaintiffs Andrew Schwartz and Alice Vitiello and filed Wednesday by attorneys with Wolf Haldenstein, claims Fairlife dupes consumers into paying more for its milk products by falsely advertising that its animals are “raised humanely.”
Mike McCloskey, owner of Fair Oaks Farm and part owner of Fairlife, publicly stated that he takes “full responsibility” for the apparent abuse and torture of the animals, according to the lawsuit, which says it started no later than last August and continued through at least November.
Schwartz, an Illinois resident, claims to have spent extra money to buy two containers of Fairlife’s 2% reduced fat chocolate milk each month, and says he would not have bought the company’s products had he known about the treatment of its calves and cows.
Vitiello, who lives in Ohio, similarly alleges she purchased Fairlife’s products based on its deceptive and misleading claim of “humane treatment of its supply cows.” They are suing for unjust enrichment, Illinois consumer fraud and deceptive business practices and violation of Ohio consumer sales practices.
Another class action led by Alain Michael and filed Tuesday by lead attorney Michael McMorrow alleges that Fairlife co-founders Mike and Sue McCloskey plaster their bogus promise of humane animal treatment on the products’ labels to conceal that their employees are actually torturing and killing their animals.
The owners’ message on product labels actually encourages consumers to visit Fair Oaks Farm so they can witness the “extraordinary care and comfort” that their animals receive, the lawsuit states.
“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 unattended in over 100-degree heat,” the lawsuit states. “Calves that do not survive the torture are dumped in mass graves.”
Michael’s lawsuit claims McCloskey apologized but then “went on to excuse the animal abuse by blaming a few bad apples, even though the abuse was rampant and known and approved by management.”
Both proposed classes are suing for alleged consumer fraud and unjust enrichment. Michael’s complaint also asserts a claim for false advertising.
Fairlife was launched in 2012 as part of a joint venture by the Coca Cola Company and Select Milk Producers.
A Coca Cola representative said in a statement that Fairlife “immediately discontinued the use of milk from Fair Oaks Farms” after the video surfaced and Coca Cola is conducting its own investigation into all of Fairlife’s dairy suppliers.
Coca Cola distributes Fairlife’s products in the U.S. and Canada through its Minute Made division.
Supermark chain Jewel-Osco recently announced it is removing all Fairlife products from its shelves.