Dairy industry reacts to animal abuse charges against massive Chilliwack dairy farm

Late Tuesday the B.C. SPCA announced a total of 20 counts of animal cruelty had been laid against Chilliwack Cattle Sales

The B.C. Dairy Association weighed in with a measured response to the cruelty charges against Chilliwack Cattle Sales

B.C. Dairy Association offered a measured response to this week’s animal cruelty charges, emphasizing that the province’s dairy farmers are “extremely passionate” and dedicated to what they do.

“As the representative organization of British Columbia’s dairy farmers, we respect the investigation by Crown counsel and the outcome of their investigation,” said BCDA spokesperson Trevor Hargreaves in a release.

Late Tuesday the B.C. SPCA announced a total of 20 counts of animal cruelty had been laid against Chilliwack Cattle Sales LTD. Company and seven of its employees.

The charges stem from a graphic undercover video shot by an animal rights group in 2014.

“The events depicted in the Mercy For Animals video were greatly disturbing to those of us in the dairy industry at both the provincial and national level,” said Hargreaves, “as they were strongly contrary to acceptable industry animal care practices.”

The BCDA supported a full investigation from the get-go.

At the time, Chilliwack Cattle Sales’ Jeff Kooyman told The Progress the company was “horrified and shocked” by the footage.

“We are devastated and deeply saddened,” by the abuse depicted on film, “and it in no way reflects the farming and animal care standards practised by our family or by the dairy industry.”

In the wake of the incident, The BCDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the B.C. SPCA and implemented a close working relationship around animal care complaints. Random farm inspections ensuring code compliance are conducted by an independent animal welfare evaluator.

The ProAction Dairy Animal Care program has also gone into effect, and adoption on dairy farms across B.C. is mandatory.

Hargreaves took issue with some of the statements around “factory-farming” as depicted in the media since the charges were laid.

“While Chilliwack Cattle Sales had over 3,000 cows on their farm at the time of the incident, it’s important to understand that the average number of cows on a dairy farm in British Columbia is about 130.”

Most are family owned and run.

“This is a far cry from industrial scale operations. Dairy farmers in this province are extremely passionate about what they do and have a dedication to high standards of animal care in their operations.”

Their focus in the aftermath has been on implementation of strengthened measures and industry changes on B.C. dairy farms.

Before the animal welfare group released the video, the industry, through groups like the B.C. Dairy Association, had been working toward updating practices and strengthening the regulations.

It became the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle.

The dairy code outlines “standards of care and practices” for owners and employees. It covers animal handling, feed and water, housing, health and welfare management, and husbandry practices — to ensure dairy cows are treated with care and respect.

The industry reeled after the video was made public.

“I want the world to know that the overwhelming majority of dairy farmers were very disappointed by what happened,” Dairy Farmer Devan Toop told The Progress shortly after it happened. “We have a conscience. We care about what we do.”

What he saw on the video was “completely inexcusable” and certainly not the norm, he underlined.

Since the charges were laid, he said he thought there were many related issues that must be addressed.

“The Kooyman family has contributed to the community in so many positive ways. I have dealt with them many times and have the utmost respect for them as business owners, farmers, and fellow members of the community.

“There is no excuse for the abuse of animals. This has been stated by local farmers, the BC dairy industry, all the way up to DFC. We have a responsibility as dairy farmers to take the best possible care of our cows and any other animals we have on our farms.”

After the incident, the online world was “flooded with images and videos” of the worst examples of abuse from farms all over the world.

“I am not opposed to the work of animal rights groups, as long as their message is in the proper context. The broad statement by Mercy for Animals that such activity observed at CCS happens at every dairy farm is flat out false.

“It is unfair of them to label an industry and chastise us all in the court of public opinion, showing footage from a 250,000-cow factory dairy in the United States and claiming that it is no different than the 50-cow family farm down the street.”

It would be hard for some to realize this was an isolated incident rather than the norm.

“We must let the justice system take its course. We have to remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and those found guilty of the charges against them will have to be held accountable.

“We must also remember that CCS has also complied with the BCSPCA in every way possible and have done everything they can to right the wrongs that were brought to light.

Toop appealed for reason.

“As a local dairy farmer, I urge you, do not let the loudest voice and the most brutal imagery stop you from making your own judgement. Contact a local farmer, or visit a neighborhood dairy. See with your own eyes the real heart of our community.”