3/13/20 Fair Oaks Farms screenshot

A Crown Point, Indiana, woman filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Fair Oaks Farms, saying the company misled consumers who bought its milk at prices higher than for other brands because of the company's claims of treating its animals well.

The lawsuit is a result of allegations against Fair Oaks, about 50 miles north of Lafayette off Interstate 65, released in a torrent of publicity last summer by an animal rights group that released videos of employees mistreating calves and cows. Fair Oaks owner Mike McCloskey admitted the released videos were authentic and took "full responsibility" for the employees' actions.

The plaintiff, Paula Honeycutt, bought Fair Oaks chocolate milk about once a week after reviewing product labels and the company's website promising the milk was sourced from "happy, healthy, well-cared-for animals," according to the lawsuit. She and other defendants paid more for Fair Oaks milk than other comparable brands.

"The reasoning is simple: Consumers deeply care whether their food comes from animals that were humanely treated and received a high level of care," the court document says.

In June, a Florida animal welfare organization, Animal Recovery Mission, released videos of employees mistreating animals, such as "intentionally breaking bones in the tails of uncooperative milk cows, forcing them to return to milking within minutes of giving birth, and punching, stabbing and kicking cattle while in the milking machines," according to the lawsuit. It also says grown cows that could no longer produce milk were shot and left to die, which sometimes took hours.

Additionally, the group alleged calves were left in filthy, overheated hutches and starved and beaten. The lawsuit includes photos of suffering and dead animals.

The lawsuit asks for certification as a class action, for others in Indiana and around the country who also bought Fair Oaks products. It asks for restitution and other fees, in addition to prohibiting the company from "engaging in the unlawful conduct."

The plaintiff's attorneys listed in the document hail from Chicago, New York, Miami and Walnut Creek, California.

McCloskey said in a video posted to the farm’s Facebook page last summer that the footage “broke my heart and created a sadness I will have to endure for the rest of my life.” He apologized and announced measures to ensure abuse “will not happen again.”

The company told reporters it would install security cameras anywhere on the property animals interact with people and arrange for an animal welfare group to conduct unannounced audits of the farm every two to four weeks.

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