Southeast Milk Inc. is implementing changes to prevent animal abuse on farms. The announcement was made following the release of two undercover videos shot on separate dairies near Okeechobee, Florida earlier this month.
The cooperative has a “zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse” and “we know that caring for our animals is the right thing to do morally, economically, and ethically,” says Jim Sleper, CEO of Southeast Milk.
Sleper read a statement from Southeast Milk at a press conference held at a dairy farm near Zolfo Springs, Florida on Nov. 27. Afterwards he answered questions for those in attendance.
“We, like many Floridians, were deeply upset and disappointed by the recent videos showing unacceptable animal care practices on two dairy farms that are members of our cooperative. This represents a breakdown in the adherence to our SMI protocols, as well as the broader standards we hold ourselves to as a part of the dairy community,” Sleper says.
Southeast Milk will hold four comprehensive corrective management trainings for farm owners and managers the week of December 11th. The training sessions will be mandatory for all members of the cooperative. Sleper says it “will reinforce the importance of employee supervision, cow care and strongly support the ongoing on-farm culture of continuous improvement.”
The cooperative was already a participating member of the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, and as part of that membership Southeast Milk plans to accelerate the use of FARM Version 3.0. Version 3.0 of the FARM Program requires enhanced training of workers, stricter requirements for working relationships with veterinarians, and stronger corrective action plan requirements for farms that are not meeting guidelines and standards.
A third piece of the announcement involves the adoption of on-farm video surveillance. Using video surveillance would help dairies ensure animals are being handled humanely at all times, across the farm.
“We need to continue to improve, not just for our animals, but for the consumers across Florida that trust us and bring dairy products into their homes every day,” Sleper says.
Burnham Dairy Farm and Larson Dairy Farm were placed on probation by Southeast Milk and the National Milk Producers Federation after the videos were released. The dairies will undergo a third-party audit to ensure necessary changes have been made to be in compliance with the FARM Program.
According to inspectors with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, many of the alleged animal welfare abuses were a result of Hurricane Irma.
Sleper says hurricane preparedness will be addressed with the move to FARM Version 3.0 policies.
Southeast Milk has the majority of its membership in Florida, but also has a large number of member farms in Georgia. There are also members in Alabama and Tennessee. The cooperative annually markets 3 billion lb. of milk.
Watch the entire press conference below: