Column: Stronger rules needed for standards of care for animals

The Code sets standards for housing, feed, health and welfare, husbandry practices, transportation and humane euthanasia

The appalling abuse of dairy cattle by a few employees at Chilliwack Cattle Sales has rightly generated a storm of backlash against not only the dairy farm but the processing company Saputo which receives milk produced by Canada’s largest dairy farm.

The abuse surfaced last week when a video taken by a representative of Mercy for Animals Canada working undercover at the farm showed horrendous abuse and cruelty. Cows were documented with open wounds, being beaten with chains and rakes, their udders punched and being mechanically hoisted by their necks. The video sent shockwaves and disgust through the dairy farm industry.

Within days of the video’s release, Mercy for Animals put up a petition on www.change.org calling for the milk processing company Montreal-based Saputo, which produces Dairyland products, to take action. Already nearly 100,000 people have signed that petition.

Saputo has jumped ahead of that curve, stating that it would no longer receive milk from the farm. Saputo does not own dairy farms but processes the milk pooled by the BC Milk Marketing Board which stated in an Industry Notice last Tuesday that any milk from Chilliwack Cattle Sales will be destroyed.

Stakeholders in the dairy industry have been sent scrambling, distancing themselves from the awful images. And it is fair comment that this act of cruelty is an anomaly among Canada’s dairy farmers.

The BC SPCA has already recommended charges of animal cruelty against the eight employees identified in the video.

“The images in the undercover video are extremely disturbing and highlight an urgent need for better standards to protect farm animals in B.C. from abuse and neglect,” said Marcie Moriarty, BC SPCA chief prevention and enforcement officer.

In 2009, the Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle was published but it has yet to be adopted into B.C. law. The BC SPCA recommends that the Canadian Codes of Practice, which set out minimum standards of care for farm animal species, be incorporated into the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act so that standards can be enforced.

The history behind the Codes of Practice began in 1980 when the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies coordinated the process of developing standards. It was taken up by the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council from 1993-2003. In 2005 the National Farm Animal Care Council was launched which continued consultations leading to an updated Code development process finalized in 2009 for dairy cows.

The Code sets standards for housing, feed, health and welfare, husbandry practices, transportation and humane euthanasia. It addresses animal needs such as companionship, shelter, freedom of movement, calf management, veterinary care, disease control and prevention, and emergency preparedness. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have all adopted the Codes into their provincial legislation.

The BC SPCA is committed to working with the B.C. government, the BC Dairy Association and other industry organizations to ensure the safe, humane treatment of farm animals while supporting the viability of B.C. producers. Humane treatment of farm animals resonates very strongly with the public.

“The provincial government has been hesitant to regulate the farm industry,” she said. “But once this video came out we have been having favourable discussions about it and it has become a priority for them. It is important that producers have clear expectations around standards of care for farm animals and that there is a system in place to monitor and enforce these standards.”

On their website, Saputo supported the recommendation of the BC SPCA that the Code of Practice for dairy cattle be adopted into B.C. law and urged the BC Milk Marketing Board and other BC authorities to get behind the recommendation.

It’s long overdue.