by BETTER FARMING STAFF
British Columbia’s milk marketing board is considering “regulatory options” for making the national code of practice for dairy cattle mandatory in that province, following the release earlier this month of a video showing animals being abused at a large dairy farm.
Don’t expect to see similar changes in here, says Graham Lloyd, a spokesman for Dairy Farmers of Ontario, which is satisfied its current policies of regular staff inspections and working with the Ontario SPCA protects the welfare of dairy animals in Ontario.
Earlier in June, the animal rights group Mercy For Animals released a covert video, shot by an “investigator,” showing workers at 3,500-cow Chilliwack Cattle Sales kicking cows and beating them with canes to get them in and out of a rotary milking parlour and using a frontend loader to lift a downed cow by her neck. The video, taken at the farm reported to be the largest dairy in Canada, showed cows with raw sores on their hind feet and legs and udders and hind quarters rubbing against moving metal bars in the rotary parlour. Mercy For Animals called for a boycott of products made by Montreal-based Saputo which owns Dairyland in British Columbia, and other provincial processors refused to purchase milk from Chilliwack Cattle Sales.
If British Columbia does make the code mandatory, however, it doesn’t mean that Ontario will follow suit.
“Our arrangement with the Ontario SPCA helps ensure enforcement,” says Lloyd, general counsel and director of communications for Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
The current system “with our field inspectors on routine inspections, complaint-based inspections, the regulation 761 with the annual health inspection from a licensed vet, together with the agreement from the OSPCA is an effective means of monitoring and maintaining welfare.
“Our view is you do need enforcement, not just a mandatory code of practice, to address those when they are in breach of that code.” Part of the arrangement is to undertake annual meetings with the Ontario SPCA and training of their inspectors. A DFO staff member accompanies an OSPCA inspector responding to a complaint and the milk board inspector informs the OSPCA when a problem is seen.
The BC Milk Marketing Board made “an interim decision” to cease delivering milk to processors from the Chilliwack farm and instead trucked it to a biodigester in Washington State where organic waste is turned into electricity, says CEO Bob Ingratta. Milk from dairy farms in British Columbia, as in Ontario, is pooled. Under provincial law, processors do not get to choose farms where the buy milk. The Chilliwack situation proved a challenge to that law.
“Since the processors didn’t want to take it, even though they are required to, we thought it was reasonable not to force the situation at that time and we made an interim decision,” Ingratta says. Processors are required to take qualifying milk that meets all of the standards for safety and quality. Animal welfare is not a criterion “at least not yet.” Ingratta adds: “We are sorting through how we should improve animal welfare and how we should make the code of practice mandatory in British Columbia. There are several regulatory options.
By law, processors must take milk from licensed dairies in the province and the milk must be shipped to them. “It was an extraordinary situation,” Ingratta says. We had to make some critical decision with respect to marketing policy and what we call orderly marketing. We have authority under the (provincial) Natural Product Marketing Act . . . for controlling production in any and all respect . . . We were very concerned about the situation.
“We felt that any animal abuse is totally unacceptable. We made an interim decision to not pick up the milk until we were satisfied that animal welfare issues were being addressed on the basis of production in any and all respects.”
Ingratta says three separate “independent” audits of animal welfare were conducted by various veterinarians in Canada and the United States, including Ontario’s Rob Tremblay, and then those audits were reviewed by a fourth veterinarian, from a clinic on Vancouver Island. On June 20 a final announcement was made that all of the province’s processors agreed to accept milk from the Chilliwack farm.
“All processors do not know where their milk comes from. It is pooled and we decide how to deliver it.” (That is also how milk is delivered in Ontario.)
Lloyd says “I don’t know how practical that is. It is certainly a standard that farms should look up to.”
DFO’s Lloyd is not aware of a problem with the technology of rotary milking parlours. He thinks that where a cow is trapped where she shouldn’t be, or won’t leave the parlour, the machine should be shut down. “That video displayed despicable and horrendous conduct. It was inhumane and from what I saw should be punished,” Lloyd adds.
Activists are calling for all dairy farms to have cameras in barns uploading video to the Internet where their activities are visible. “I don’t know how practical that is,” says Lloyd. Having the public watching 24/7 “is certainly a standard that farms should live up to.”
The BC SPCA is looking at laying charges against the eight workers in the video who have since been fired from the Chilliwack farm. BF