Southeast Milk Statement on the status of Okeechobee County Dairy Farms
Attributable to Jim Sleper, CEO of Southeast Milk Inc.
“Southeast Milk Inc. (SMI), has a zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse. As a cooperative of family-owned dairies, we know that caring for our animals is the right thing to do morally, economically, and ethically.
Our farmers are also sharply focused on producing the best and healthiest milk products from well-cared-for livestock, so our clients and their customers enjoy their farm fresh milk, every single day.
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.
Our organization is a participating member in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, the U.S. dairy industry’s comprehensive quality assurance program for on-farm practices. Any employee of a farm marketing its milk through SMI who is found to have violated the animal care guidelines, as well as any employee who witnessed abuse and failed to report it, should be terminated. We pledge to cooperate with the many investigative authorities looking into all allegations. We have not and will not delay our cooperation for any reason.
The farms featured in the recently-released videos have been placed on probationary status, pending the completion of any and all corrective actions deemed necessary by a third-party auditor and the FARM Program. It should be noted that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspectors reports that the many of the alleged animal welfare abuses referenced in a complaint were indeed connected to Hurricane Irma, and that the issues were addressed by the dairy owners even before FDACS received the complaint.
Recognizing that management of our member dairies begins from the top down, SMI will hold four comprehensive remedial management trainings for farm owners and operators the week of December 11th. These remedial trainings will be mandatory for all of our members and will reinforce the importance of employee supervision, cow care and strongly support the ongoing on-farm culture of continuous improvement.
SMI is also working with FARM to accelerate the adoption and implementation of the newest iteration of the program, Version 3.0, at every SMI member farm in the next six months. 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.
Finally, realizing that dairies are 24/7/365, always-on facilities, it is essential that farmers and farm managers are able to evaluate every part of their day-to-day operations at a moment’s notice. As such, SMI is working with all of its member farms to introduce or strengthen video surveillance in order help ensure animals are being treated respectfully and humanely at all hours of the day and at all locations on 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.”