Holstein cow, courtesy Wiki Commons and Agricultural Research Service
Recently CBC reported that an undercover employee at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Canada’s largest dairy farm, videotaped other employees blatantly abusing cattle at the business. The undercover agent was from Mercy for Animals Canada, an advocacy organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies. The video has a strong content warning as it shows violence toward animals. The owner of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Jeff Kooyman, is currently under investigation. The company’s management fired the eight employees who were caught abusing cattle, and the BC SPCA is recommending criminal charges against the employees.
Mercy for Animals states on its website:
Over 99 percent of the cruelty to animals in Canada occurs at the hands of the meat, dairy, and egg industries, which confine, mutilate, and slaughter approximately 700 million land animals each year. Despite the fact that huge numbers of farmed animals are badly abused in Canada, they have very few advocates. That is why it is so important that we stand up and speak out for the most defenseless.
This travesty begs the question: what can we, as consumers, do to make ethical food choices? We might have the best intentions, but how do we know for sure that the farms we buy from are responsible? It was an active discussion among some peers recently. One, Courtney Niesh, has been inspirational to me to become a vegetarian. But it’s not that I think eating meat is bad. I think that the process of assembly-lined living animals, that are treated badly for my meat, dairy, and egg consumption, is an act that I want no participation in, even if the end product is a sizzling steak or my mom’s great southern fried chicken. I sought an end to eating that kind of meat after watching this clip from the film Baraka.
As consumers, you and I have all the power in the world to investigate and decide where we get our food sources. For instance, Courtney took it in her own hands to write to farms that produce the cheese she buys–curious about their ethics when it came to animals. Her question was:
Hi there, I am from Vancouver BC and have recently read an article about cows that were mistreated at a dairy farm in Chilliwack, BC. I am a vegetarian as I am concerned about the mistreatment of farm animals, but I do consume cheese. I am wondering if you could tell me what farms you get your dairy from and if you make an effort to ensure animals at the farm are treated humanely; this includes living conditions.
Quebec-based Saputo is currently also under fire since Chilliwack Cattle Sales is the main supplier for Dailyland, owned by Saputo since 2001. Saputo’s response was immediate and thanked Courtney for her questions. Saputo said that they are committed to the highest standards and ethics and were horrified by the abuse of dairy cows in BC. As Canada’s largest dairy processor, they stated that they will not tolerate animal abuse and commended the termination of the Chilliwack Cattle Sales employees who abused the animals.
Saputo also told Courtney that they have asked the BC Milk Marketing Board (BCMMB) and other BC authorities to put enforceable standards in place to ensure such incidents do not occur in the future. Supportive of the BC SPCA’s recommendation that the Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattles, Saputo said that they asked the BCMMB and other BC authorities to likewise support the BC SPCA’s recommendation.
Saputo clarified that it does not own or oversee any dairy farms in BC or elsewhere in Canada. Along with all other dairy processors in BC they purchase milk solely from the BCMMB, which is responsible for the pooling of milk from farms throughout BC. However, they still recognized their responsibility to act as a leader in the industry in order to help bring about change.
Courtney also wrote to Kraft–asking the same question she had asked Saputo. Kraft’s response was less enthusiastic, just a quick sentence stating that the requested information was not currently available.
Courtney buys her Parmesan from Clover Leaf Cheese Ltd., and asked them the question she had posed to Kraft and Saputo. They responded that Clover Leaf Cheese is a federally registered packaging plant that purchases all their Canadian cheese from other federally registered companies such as Agropur, Saputo, and Parmalat. They count on these companies and the CFIA to monitor the environment the cows live in on the farms they contract.
When it comes down to it, it seems that most corporations have it in their best interest to monitor the living conditions, health, and well-being of food animals, but there are people working in the industry who will not comply and even, as shown in the video, do just the opposite: treat animals cruelly and sadistically.
The consumer always has responsibility, and thus the power, to make choices, including what food we buy. Fortunately, some organizations have already done the legwork to help us know which food sources are ethically produced. Writing to companies, like Courtney did, is one avenue. You can also visit the BC SPCA and find a SPCA Certified Retailer.