Chilliwack, Abbotsford dairy farms face lawsuit over tainted milk

Montreal-based dairy giant Saputo files claim against BC Milk Marketing Board, Chilliwack Cattle Sales and Cedarwal Farms

Chilliwack Cattle Sales rotary milking parlour during a Chilliwack Agricultural Tour in 2014. The farm is the largest dairy farm in Canada.

Chilliwack Cattle Sales rotary milking parlour during a Chilliwack Agricultural Tour in 2014. The farm is the largest dairy farm in Canada.

A Chilliwack dairy farm, an Abbotsford dairy farm and the BC Milk Marketing Board face a lawsuit from dairy-producing giant Saputo over tainted milk shipments.

The lawsuit filed in BC Supreme Court in early February names the milk marketing board (the Board), Chilliwack Cattle Sales and Cedarwal Farms.

In the notice of civil claim, Saputo states that on Aug. 12, 2013, the Board provided 17,784 litres of raw milk to Saputo’s Burnaby plant. This milk was found to contain excess bacteria found to be caused by a breach of health regulations by the producer.

Before the company found out about the contaminated milk, it had been blended, which affected 223,240 litres of milk and 111,921 litres of packaged product.

This contaminated milk, found to have come from Chilliwack Cattle Sales, caused damages of $65,317.57, according to the claim.

Then between Feb. 4 and 20, 2015, 120,029 litres of organic milk was shipped to Saputo’s Burnaby and Abbotsford plant. This suspect milk was again co-mingled with milk in silos.

On or about Feb. 20, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) advised Saputo it was conducting a safety inspection to determine if the suspect milk was produced from cows whose feed was contaminated by aflatoxin, a potential human carcinogen produced by moulds.

Saputo claims the Board was aware of the situation prior to Feb. 20, but did not notify the company.

“If the Board had done so, Saputo could have rejected the suspect milk and averted the related loss,” according to the claim.

The CFIA later determined the organic milk not to be unsafe, but by the time Saputo was told this, much of the product was unusable.

This milk originated, according to the claim, at Cedar Valley Farms in Abbotsford. Cedar Valley is owned by Cedarwal.

Saputo deducted the $65,317.57 from the Chilliwack milk and $26,303.64 from the Abbotsford milk from payments to the Board. The company’s civil claim asks either for the Board to declare the company was allowed to make those deductions, or that Saputo be paid damages in those amounts against the Board, Chilliwack Cattle Sales and Cedarwal.

Saputo’s lawyers states that the Board is “a monopolistic distributor of milk on behalf of all producers” in B.C. and this arrangement “deprives Saputo of having any choice with respect to the Producers from whom they buy.”

The Board has not yet filed a response to the civil claim.

This isn’t the first time Saputo has come up against Chilliwack Cattle Sales. In 2014, and in response to a 100,000-plus name online petition asking Montreal-based Saputo to “adopt meaningful animal welfare policies for its dairy suppliers,” the company responded.

The petition came after a Mercy For Animals video emerged showing abuse of cattle at the Chilliwack dairy farm.

“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 in June 2014.

Chilliwack Cattle Sales responded with an open invitation to Saputo to view the farm and the level of care.

“This is a family farm started in the 1950s and we care deeply for our animals,” co-owner Jeff Kooyman said in a statement. “We would love the opportunity to show this to Saputo and what measures have been put in place to ensure animal welfare.”

The cattle abuse did lead to charges and in December the company and one director were handed a total of $300,000 in fines after pleading guilty to animal cruelty.

“We deeply regret what has happened and we promise this will never happen again,” Kenneth Kooyman told the court.

The young men seen abusing cattle in the videos are still before the courts.

A number of the employees involved in the alleged abuse are set to go to trial in April 2017, with yet others scheduled to make a guilty plea that month.

paul.henderson@theprogress.com

@PeeJayAitch

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