The recent animal abuse at Chilliwack Cattle sales, a British Columbia farm where a number of employees were captured on video sadistically torturing and abusing cattle, has led to calls for reform in animal treatment.
The undercover video from the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada — shot by an activist posing as an employee of the farm — showed dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as punched and kicked.
It showed cows suffering from open wounds and injuries, and being lifted by their necks with chains and tractors.
Chilliwack Cattle fired eight employees after the group Mercy for Animals Canada took the video to authorities. The SPCA has recommended criminal charges against them but to date no charges have been laid and nothing has been proven in court.
The Crown has yet to approve the charges, which could also see the workers fined $10,000, said SPCA spokeswoman Lorie Chortyk. She said the SPCA would be happy with a ban and three-to-six months in jail for the workers, all of whom have been fired, but said the main goal is to encourage change in the industry to ensure the animals are monitored on a regular basis. “There is a code of practice for dairy farmers but because it’s not enshrined in law there’s nobody monitoring it,” Chortyk said. “Our goal is to work with industry to improve things.”
Chortyk said the video was shot undercover during the month of May by a Mercy for Animals investigator, who accepted a job with Chilliwack Cattle Sales farm. She said it was her understanding that the worker had approached the employers about the abuse but decided to give the video to the SPCA on June 2 when no changes had been made.
Mercy for Animals said earlier the company failed to provide adequate training or respond to the concerns raised by its undercover member before the video’s release. It rejected claims by farm co-owner Jeff Kooyman that none of the owners knew about the abuse.
Kooyman said he doesn’t know what got into the young men seen kicking, punching and beating the animals with pipes and chains.
“We expected more,” Kooyman said after opening his farm to media. Kooyman says his farm has zero tolerance for animal abuse and promised it would be installing cameras in the barns and retraining staff. In 2008, Chilliwack Cattle Sales was cleared of charges relating to the transport of injured cows.
B.C. SPCA enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty said Chilliwack Cattle Sales has so far been cooperating with its investigation. The B.C. SPCA is recommending charges of animal cruelty against the eight employees. Many are saying that charges of animal cruelty against the eight employees is a good start, but more reform is needed in order to ensure cases like this don’t become common practice.
The company supplies brands including Saputo and Dairyland.
Dairy food giant Saputo Inc. is no longer accepting milk from Chilliwack Cattle Sales and says it is leading the charge for reform in animal treatment.
“Since Saputo learned of the animal abuse at the farm in British Columbia from which horrific images of cattle mistreatment were captured, the company has used its position as Canada’s largest milk processor to ensure the situation is being addressed and that such reprehensible behaviour . . . does not occur in the future,” Saputo said in a statement mid-June.
The Montreal-based company said it has reached out to the province’s minister of agriculture as well as the B.C. Dairy Association, the B.C. Dairy Council and the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board.
“Saputo has taken the lead in bringing industry stakeholders together behind a common goal: to ensure immediate consequences for those involved and enforceable legal measures to prevent future animal abuse,” it said.
It said it also supports the recommendation of the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that the Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, published in 2009, be adopted into B.C. law.
In announcing its action, Saputo noted that it does not own or operate any dairy farms in British Columbia or anywhere else in Canada and, like all dairy processors in Canada, is required by law to purchase milk from provincial milk marketing boards.
“While we do not own the farms, we care deeply about the way the milk we sell is produced. We will not accept milk from the B.C. Milk Marketing Board supplied by this farm until we are fully satisfied that strict animal welfare practices are in place,” it said.
In a statement, the B.C. Milk Marketing Board says it remains deeply concerned about the abuse shown on the video.
The farm’s owner, Jeff Kooyman, has described the video as “horrifying to watch” and said he didn’t know what got into the young men seen kicking, punching and beating the animals with pipes.
Kooyman has said the dairy operation — the country’s largest, with more then 3,500 animals — will put in security cameras that will be monitored and would work with the SPCA on better training for staff.
“Until you’ve actually seen it, I never could have imagined it being that horrific,” Kooyman said in an interview. “That’s not us. We have zero tolerance for animal abuse on this farm.”
Wally Smith, head of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said he too was disgusted by what he saw on the videotape.
“Having witnessed the footage, we are deeply shaken,” Taylor said.
“Organizationally, we will be taking proactive steps to further our already strong animal care practices.”
There is zero tolerance for such actions, he said.
“We feel it vital to assert that this abuse is in no way common practice in our industry,” Taylor said.
But the incident prompted several calls for greater scrutiny.
The Vancouver Humane Society said there should be random inspections and mandatory video surveillance of livestock operations.
Anna Pippus of Mercy for Animals, called the treatment sadistic.
She said the undercover employee went to a supervisor and no action was taken. However, a video of the exchange shows someone identified as Brad Kooyman expressing dismay that an employee was hitting the cows.
“Watch for that and make sure nobody hits them unnecessarily,” Brad Kooyman tells the employee, whose identity was not disclosed.
Pippus said it wasn’t until the undercover video made headlines that the company took action.
“Without our investigation this cruelty would have continued to run rampant indefinitely,” she said at a news conference.
The group called on government to create standards specific to farm animals and to be proactive in enforcing them with third-party inspections. Currently, general animal cruelty laws rely on complaints to spur investigation.
It also wants dairy producers to install video monitoring. Chilliwack Cattle said it planned to do so, but Mercy for Animals wants that video streamed on the Internet so public can see the factory floor.
Veterinarian David Dykshorn said he is at the Kooyman farm two or three times a week and has never seen evidence of abuse.
The SPCA said the incident shows a need for better standards to protect farm animals in the province. That call was echoed by the Vancouver Humane Society and Mercy for Animals.
Pippus said the farm was chosen at random, the sixth random undercover investigation at industrial animal farms by her group. Each time they’ve captured abuse, she said.
“The cows on this dairy factory farm experience nothing but fear, violence, and deprivation at the hands of sadistic animal abusers,” Twyla Francois, of Mercy For Animals Canada, said in a statement. “This investigation proves that the dairy industry is incapable of self-regulation. The government must step in to create and enforce standards to protect farmed animals from needless cruelty.”