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Milk pickup resumes at Chilliwack dairy farm at centre of abuse scandal

A Saputo/Dairyland truck in Chilliwack delivers product to stores. - Paul J. Henderson
A Saputo/Dairyland truck in Chilliwack delivers product to stores.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

Milk pickup has resumed at Chilliwack Cattle Sales after what the BC Dairy Farmers are calling a "dark time" for the industry.

Pickup of milk from the 3,500-cow herd at Canada’s largest dairy farm in Chilliwack was halted earlier this week after the largest processor in the country, Montreal-based Saputo, refused to accept milk from the Chilliwack Cattle Sales (CCS) after a 100,000-plus name petition was created.

Saputo wasn't the only processor to refuse CCS milk, according to the BC Milk Marketing Board, which mean the nearly 100,000 litres of milk produced each day was destroyed by being sent to an organic food waste production facility in Lynden, Wash.

CCS continued to be paid for the destroyed milk during the halted pickup.

Now that pickup has resumed, the BC Dairy Association says "the public needs to be assured that dairy cows are well taken care of, and this sentiment is shared across the dairy sector."

"The animal abuse incident at Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. has caused our industry to take a long hard look at industry animal welfare issues," a statement issued Friday said. "We are looking toward the future and focusing on devising the steps necessary to assure that such an incident never happens again on a BC dairy farm.

The association said a number of steps have been taken, including:

• installation of video cameras at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, allowing for 24-hour surveillance of animal care practices on the farm;

• adoption of an employee handbook and development of strict policies to regulate employee behaviour;

• ongoing employee training on herdsmanship to assure a higher standard of employee knowledge and training;

• the association has requested improved supervisory monitoring on every shift, particularly on the nightshift;

• and, it advocated for interim third party on-site audits to assess the current state of animal welfare practices on the farm.

"The average dairy farm in this province has 130 cows, is family owned, and multigenerational," the statement read. "Well-treated cows are strong milk-producing animals, and it’s in absolutely no-one’s interest to mistreat their animals."

Eight employees were fired from CCS after a video was released by the vegan-lifestyle organization Mercy For Animals (MFA) that showed hitting, punching, kicking and hanging of cows.

Lorie Chortyk of the BC SPCA said she has seen a lot of disturbing animal abuse videos, but “I have seen nothing that sickened me like this.”

Crown counsel is currently considering criminal charges against the eight employees who were fired.

The online petition asking for Saputo to act and the subsequent story has received national attention, but there has also been a small, local backlash to the boycott, as local hobby farmer Danica Callaghan created a Facebook page called “Support Chilliwack Cattle Sales,” which received 1,200 likes in just 72 hours.

Callaghan says the Kooyman family addressed the problem by firing the employees, and she thinks the community will see them leading the way to improve the industry.

She went further on Tuesday and started an online petition also directed at Saputo asking them to resume milk pickup saying the company made a “big mistake” not to pick up milk from Chilliwack Cattle.

“You’ve senselessly wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars, and for what? To appease supporters? I think it’s safe to say that a large portion of the petitioners don’t even consume dairy products,” Callaghan said.

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