Joaquin Phoenix pleads for goats at disgraced Far Marsh farm to be rescued

Exclusive: Hollywood stars and other actors and singers back open letter asking for animals to be handed over after The Independent revealed horrors behind closed doors

Jane Dalton
Tuesday 04 August 2020 08:30
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Goats cry out in pain on dairy farm

Joaquin Phoenix and Alicia Silverstone are pleading with the owners of a farm where goats were brutally attacked to hand the animals over to sanctuaries.

The Hollywood actors, together with singers Moby and Leona Lewis, Harry Potter star Evanna Lynch and Downton Abbey star Peter Egan, have signed an open letter to the farm, which is linked to the UK’s best-known goat milk producer, St Helen’s Farm.

Government, council and trading standards officials are investigating conditions at Far Marsh Farm in East Yorkshire, where three members of staff were sacked and one given a final warning after The Independent exposed shocking scenes of animal brutality behind closed doors.

Workers were secretly filmed punching, kicking and hitting goats with a pole; animals were also painfully slammed on their backs, had their tails twisted or were held by the neck.

“We ask you only to do the right thing – allow as many of your goats as possible to be rehomed to sanctuaries, and transition Far Marsh Farm away from animal farming to ensure that no others will ever be abused there again,” the letter says.

Lewis, who is vegan and trustee of an animal sanctuary in Essex, contacted Surge animal rights group, who had first received the footage, after reading The Independent‘s piece exposing the brutality.

Marks & Spencer and all the big supermarkets except Morrisons said they pulled St Helen’s Farm products, including milk, cheese and butter, from sale after seeing the footage.

Angus Wielkopolski, founder of Yorkshire Dairy Goats, which owns the farm, told The Independent last week he may have to close the 4,000-animal site if he cannot salvage its reputation.

But since then, Mr Wielkopolski has not been contactable, and the fate of the 4,000 animals is unknown.

The Independent is seeking his response to offers to rehome the goats in sanctuaries and to help him find ways to keep his business going without using animals.

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition also calling on Far Marsh Farm’s owners to put the goats in safe hands.

Surge drew up the celebrity letter to St Helen’s and its parent company Kavli UK, and has found places for some of the animals.

The organisation is also pressing farm bosses to accept help in ending goat farming.

This could be done through Refarm’d, a company that specialises in helping dairy farmers to switch to producing plant milk and convert their land into sanctuaries, Surge says.

A move “from goat milk to oat milk” would be environmentally beneficial and offer a sustainable income, the letter argues. Other uses of the land include arable crops, growing pulses and produce for human food, and to rewilding, it says

It adds: “The farming we propose may be referred to as alternative today, but one day it will be the main form of agriculture, making best use of land and resources and addressing growing environmental pressures production of their lands.”

Phoenix, the star of Joker and also a vegan, is to be an executive producer, with his wife Rooney Mara, of a new documentary on links between factory farming and pandemics.

Mara, her actor sister Kate, actress Alexandra Paul, Olympic athlete Dotsie Bausch and actor Lucy Watson also signed the letter.

At the same time, questions are being raised over the links between Far Marsh Farm and the St Helen’s Farm brand.

St Helen’s Farm said Far Marsh Farm was just one of a number of its suppliers, and that it cut ties with the farm after the cruelty was revealed.

But it can be revealed that Yorkshire Dairy Goats (YDG), which owns the farm, was previously called St Helen’s Farm Goats, and is registered at St Helen’s Farm’s main office.

YDG is part-owned, through a minority investment, by Kavli Investments Ltd, part of Kavli UK Ltd, which also owns the St Helen’s Farm brand.

But Kavli has declined to comment on the future of the goats, when pressed by The Independent.

A spokeswoman for Kavli UK said answers must come from YDG, adding: “Day-to-day operations and managerial control of Far Marsh Farm is held by Angus and Kathleen Wielkopolski.

“The fact that St Helen’s Farm stopped taking milk from Far Marsh Farm immediately after we were informed about this mistreatment of animals demonstrates both our commitment to animal welfare and that we will not accept anything other than the highest standards from all of our suppliers.

“Under no circumstances will we accept that any of the goats on our supplying farms are mistreated in any way.”

Kavli UK bought the St Helen’s Farm dairy from the Wielkopolskis in 2013 and so has full ownership and management responsibility of St Helen’s Farm, she added.

“At that time, a minority investment was also made in Yorkshire Dairy Goats, with one of its two farms being Far Marsh Farm, the farm at the centre of this issue.”

East Yorkshire council health officers say they are investigating together with government officials from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

An APHA spokesperson said: “We are investigating the allegations of animal welfare legislation breaches. Where welfare regulations are breached, appropriate action is taken.

“We do not comment on individual cases.”

The RSPCA says it may take action if APHA does not.

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