FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Jacob Larson, the owner of Okeechobee-based Larson Dairy, says he doesn’t tolerate animal abuse.
But a video allegedly taken at his farm tells a different story. It shows cows being kicked, pushed, beaten and jabbed with a steel rod.
The video was released by Animal Recovery Misson (ARM) who had one of their members go undercover at Larson Dairy, the largest milk producer in the state.
ARM said the steel rod the animals were beaten with was used to make them move more quickly into and out of their milking stalls.
“On day one, we started seeing serious abuse by the milkers, by the managers, by the foremen,” said ARM’s Executive Director Richard Cuoto.
He said his operative worked at the farm for a little less than a month and witnessed the abuse every day.
Larson said he was unaware of any problems. Cuoto, however, claims Larson sometimes witnessed the abuse firsthand.
“One of the owners Jacob Larson was in the milking barn and witnessed the brutality. One time he reprimanded, a light reprimand, one of the workers,” Cuoto said.
Larson said he’s taken action by firing one employee and suspending two others.
“If cows aren’t cool, clean, and comfortable, they’re not producing quality milk. So we gotta take excellent care,” Larson explained.
The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating.
“I know three generations of Larsons that have run this operation and I stand here before you to say any one of those gentlemen would not accept this kind of conduct from any employee or anybody with their cattle,” said Sheriff Noel E. Stephen. “I believe there will be charges upon the completion of this investigation.”
Among the dairy’s biggest customers is Publix Supermarkets.
Publix issued a statement saying, “…we are disturbed by the images and shocked by the cruelty shown toward the animals. We are suspending raw milk deliveries from that farm. At Publix, we care about and are committed to animal welfare.”
Larson said he cares too. He points out that the farm puts employees through extensive training and vowed that nothing like this will happen again.
The sheriff says operations at the dairy will continue during their investigation because the cows have to get milked twice a day or they could get sick.