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Florida Dairy Loses Publix As Client Following Animal Abuse Scandal

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Publix Supermarkets has stopped buying milk from a major Florida dairy after allegations of animal cruelty were brought against the operation.

Video of dairy cows being beaten and jabbed with a steel rod, or rebar, was taken by an undercover operative with the activist group Animal Recovery Mission, or ARM.

The activist was hired as a worker for Okeechobee based Larson Dairy, the largest milk producer in the state.

ARM says the steel rod the animals were beaten with were 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 Richard Couto with ARM.

ARM says their member worked at the farm for a little less than a month.

"Imagine a piece of steel rebar being jabbed in the head of any living thing," Couto said.

The behavior wasn't isolated. ARM says that its agent witnessed the abuse every day.

"The abuse continued as the days went on," Cuoto said.

The owner of the Larson Dairy Farm says the video concerns him and this isn't how he runs his farm.

"If cows aren't cool, clean and comfortable, they're not producing quality milk. So we gotta take excellent care," said owner Jacob Larson. "We have numerous heard health protocols with our veterinarian staff to help us with the training of these technicians."

Larson says after he became aware of this video, he fired one employee and suspended two others.

He says he owns 2000 cows and cares about their well being.

"No different than a hospital with a bunch of nurses taking care of patients," said Larson.

Among the dairy's biggest customers is Publix Supermarkets.  Publix issued a statement Thursday 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."

ARM has given the recordings to the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office.

A high level source in the state attorney's office for the 19th circuit calls the images "ugly" and "disturbing."

The case is now under criminal investigation.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office said it is taking the behavior at the dairy "very seriously" and will investigate to what extent employees or managers participated in it, or knew about it.

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