BY MARJORIE STEWART
In 2014 the animal rights group Mercy for Animals released footage of deliberate torment of dairy cattle by three employees of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, the largest industrial dairy farm in Canada. The defendants pled guilty to 18 counts of cruelty and were recently sentenced to between seven and 60 days in jail. Last December, Chilliwack Cattle Sales and one of its owners were convicted of animal cruelty and ordered to pay fines totalling almost $350,000. On May 29, four more workers from the farm entered intentions to plead guilty to violating the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. At the time of the investigation, Chilliwack Cattle Sales was a major supplier to Saputo, the largest dairy processor in Canada.
Cruelty to dairy animals is not confined to the sadistic actions of a few thugs. The nine million dairy cows in the U.S. produce 100 pounds of milk per day – 10 times more than natural production. These industrially farmed dairy cows produce a calf every year and are artificially re-impregnated while they are still lactating from their previous birthing, so their bodies are still producing milk during seven months of their nine-month pregnancy. The unnaturally rich diet they are fed to keep up this level of production creates disorders which can be fatal and cause lameness. Approximately half of U.S. dairy cows suffer from bacterial infection of their udders and other diseases. Bovine growth hormone, a synthetic hormone, is injected into cows to produce even more milk. Besides adversely affecting the cows’ health, BGH also increases birth defects in their calves. The jury is still out on effects on human consumers.
After their relatively short productive life, cows go to slaughterhouses. Many of them become ‘downers,’ cows that cannot get up, a condition usually preceding death. Downed cows are routinely dragged or pushed with bulldozers in moving them to slaughter.
This is not the life celebrated in the charming children’s books about traditional farms. It’s not the life I remember cows leading during my youth.
What has changed? There are too many of us expecting too much dairy produce. Industrial-scale dairy farming creates distances between the farms and the consumers resulting in de-sensitized farm owners and their employees putting maximum production before comfortable lives for the animals.
The answer to faraway production is local production. Because local production will not produce the quantities of current methods, we will have to make do with less. In fact, rearranging the surface of the planet in order to produce more and more food for more and more people has got to end somewhere, just as our other over-consumption habits have an end date even if we don’t know when it will be.
These are ethical questions. Now that I am facing up to my own wilful blindness to the suffering caused by my uses of industrially produced dairy products, I will be switching to oils and avoiding the oils from genetically modified crops.
Locally produced dairy products can’t come soon enough.
Marjorie Stewart is past chair of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.