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It’s animal rights activist vs. politically connected farmer in animal abuse controversy

McCloskey served on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee, and his companies have contributed more than $325,000 to state and federal campaigns and political action committees in the past 10 years.

TONY COOK: ‘An animal welfare controversy that has garnered national attention pits a gun-toting activist – once described as a “Yuppie Rambo” – against an Indiana farmer so well connected he met with President Donald Trump at the White House in September and was mentioned in the governor’s State of the State Address. One man is on a crusade to fight animal cruelty by infiltrating farms and slaughterhouses with hidden cameras. The other is a pioneer of agricultural tourism designed in part to combat the bad press of large-scale farming operations that now produce much of the country’s food.

The controversy was sparked by a video that depicted workers abusing calves at Fair Oaks Farms, a northern Indiana dairy farm and tourism attraction that has been called the Disneyland of agriculture. It is expected to play out not only in the legal system, but in the court of public opinion. The shocking video, released earlier this week, showed farmhands stomping on calves’ heads, body slamming them and striking them with metal rods. The footage was recorded by an undercover activist who was hired at the farm. Reaction has been swift. The release has generated strong emotional outcry on social media, spurred an investigation by the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, and prompted some stores to stop selling one of the farm’s best known products… The men behind the controversy appear about as different as two men can be…

Richard Couto, 48, leads the group that recorded the abuse. Couto – who goes by the nickname “Kudo” – founded his nonprofit called Animal Recovery Mission, or ARM, in 2010 in Miami. He describes the small organization as an “uncompromising defending force” for animal welfare. He is militant about his mission. He carries loaded weapons, wears bulletproof vests and paints himself as a sort of Batman who fights animal cruelty – a former businessman who developed real estate by day and infiltrated illegal animal slaughter farms by night. Others have described him as a “Yuppie Rambo” and the “Dark Knight of Florida’s slaughter underworld.” “Money wasn’t doing it for me,” he told IndyStar. “I wanted my life to stand for something”… ARM now has about 15 full-time employees. He says many are former law enforcement, members of the military and government contractors… The group’s work has led to investigations, arrests and convictions of animal abusers. While some law enforcement officials have expressed thanks for ARM, others have complained Couto’s vigilante approach can undermine their ability to prosecute animal abusers…

The farmer he is crusading against is Mike McCloskey, founder of Fair Oaks Farms and Select Milk Producers, one of the largest milk cooperatives in the country. McCloskey and his wife are considered pioneers of agricultural tourism. Fair Oaks has been coined the Disneyland of the industry and earned praise for pulling back the curtain on agricultural practices. Fair Oaks’ Dairy Adventure offers a theme park-like experience aimed at the vast majority of Americans who don’t farm. But there was also another motivation. The show-and-tell approach was launched in part as a proactive attempt to combat anti-agriculture activists like PETA and ARM. It stood in contrast to the approach many in the industry were taking, pushing for so-called “ag gag” legislation in Indiana and other states that would make actions like ARM’s illegal… Fair Oaks partnered with The Coca-Cola Company to distribute Fairlife milk, which was higher in protein and lower in sugar…

His reputation as an ideas man has made him rich. He owns numerous homes, including a $1.3 million, 11,000-square-foot mansion with a pool and a tennis court. His role as a major campaign donor has also helped him to cultivate political connections. McCloskey and his companies have contributed more than $325,000 to state and federal campaigns and political action committees in the past 10 years. That includes nearly $100,000 to Vice President Mike Pence during his time as Indiana governor, about $22,000 to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s campaign and $10,000 to Pence’s Great America Committee… The Trump administration has also taken notice. McCloskey served on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee, and was among those considered for U.S. secretary of agriculture, according to Politico. He visited the White House to discuss trade as recently as September’. SOURCE…

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