OKEECHOBEE (CBSMiami) — A Florida farm owner, who said he was unaware of animal abuse on his farm, is now under fire after a group claims that video shows he knew about it.
Activist group Animal Recovery Mission, or ARM, released footage from an undercover operation at the Larson Dairy farm allegedly showing Jacob Larson restricting a cow while an employee kicked the animal in the head.
The group says the video shows Larson was present and participating on at least one occasion. Larson, ARM claims, witnessed employees using excessive force to move cows into and out of their milking stalls. ARM says video released Wednesday, and provided to the Okeechobee Sheriff’s Office in November shows Larson restraining a cow while a worker is hitting the animal in the head.
The new allegations come more than a month after the group first revealed an undercover video of the alleged animal abuse at the Okeechobee-based farm, considered the largest milk producer in the state.
The video showed dairy cows being beaten and jabbed with a steel rod.
ARM said their member, who collected the footage, worked undercover at the farm for a little less than a month and witnessed the abuse every day.
Following the release of the video back in November, Larson had said that when he became aware of the video, he fired one employee and suspended two others.
“If cows aren’t cool, clean and comfortable, they’re not producing quality milk. So we gotta take excellent care,” said owner Jacob Larson back on Nov. 9th. “We have numerous heard health protocols with our veterinarian staff to help us with the training of these technicians.”
He also said he owns 2,000 cows and cares about their well-being.
“No different than a hospital with a bunch of nurses taking care of patients,” said Larson on November 9th.
While Larson has denied knowing of the abuse captured by ARM, the group’s founder, Richard Couto, says Larson worked on the farm every day, had an office in the milking barn, and would have had to have seen the abuse that occurred on a “constant” basis every day.
Once the first video came out, one of Larson Dairy’s biggest customers – Publix Supermarkets – announced they suspended business with them. Publix is still not buying Larson milk.
The case of Larson Dairy farm is now under criminal investigation.
ARM has little faith that Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen will bring charges against Larson. The sheriff previously spoke up for Larson, saying he had known him for years, and that he was confident Larson would never allow abuse that he was aware of. ARM said it has brought federal authorities into the investigation.
As of midafternoon Wednesday, CBS4 News was unable to reach Larson for comment, a spokesman for Sheriff Stephen had not responded to a request for comment and the Florida Dairy Farmers, Inc. also had not responded to a request for comment. The Farmer’s organization has previously released statements on Larson’s behalf.
An attorney for Larson previously had written a letter to ARM, threatening a lawsuit over publishing “disparaging material and injurious falsehoods about my client.”
At last check, authorities had warrants for four people but they had only been able to locate three of them. Investigators believe the other three have more than likely left the country to avoid prosecution.