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Backlash over milk destroyed from Chilliwack dairy farm

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

The 3,500 cows at Canada’s largest dairy farm in Chilliwack don’t care about petitions, public perception or undercover videos that have shocked the nation.

Milk continues to flow.

And because the largest processor in the country, Montreal-based Saputo, now refuses to accept milk from the Chilliwack Cattle Sales (CCS), the BC Milk Marketing Board says there is no other market and the milk has to be destroyed.

This means that nearly 100,000 litres of milk produced each day at the massive operation on Prairie Central Road owned by the Kooyman family will be wasted until an independent audit is completed.

The outrage at the announcement Tuesday was immediate.

“Why not donate the milk instead of destroying it? They could use the (good?) PR after recent events,” said @codephobia on Twitter.

“Now that is almost the dumbest thing

I’ve heard,” said @BSeaBob. “Use the milk somehow even with no proceeds to CCS.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, the BC Milk Marketing Board said it is “concerned” with Saputo’s announcement that it would refuse Chilliwack Cattle Sales milk, but it will comply with the request.

The Board very briefly suspended milk pickup at the farm last week due to “concern for the ethical treatment of animals.”

A notice was issued June 12, but the next day the Board received advice from a veterinarian, and word from the BC SPCA and Chilliwack Cattle Sales that the animals would be cared for properly.

Meanwhile, an online petition directed at Saputo CEO Lino Saputo Jr. with more than 100,000 signatures spurred the company to act, and the company announced Monday it would no longer accept CCS milk.

“Since Saputo learned of the animal abuse at the farm in British Columbia from which horrific images of cattle mistreatment were captured, the company has used its position as Canada’s largest milk processor to ensure the situation is being addressed and that such reprehensible behaviour, which offends not only Saputo’s values but also those of its consumers and customers, does not occur in the future,” the statement said.

Through a public relations firm, the Kooymans responded.

“We would like to extend an open invitation to Saputo to come and view the farm and level of animal care for themselves,” Jeff Kooyman said. “This is a family farm started in the 1950s and we care deeply for our animals. We would love the opportunity to show this to Saputo and what measures have been put in place to ensure animal welfare.”

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 and the 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.

“I created the page after a boycott Chilliwack Cattle page was put up,” she told the Times. “The page has since been removed, and was full of misdirected hate, slander, and people attacking each other. I wanted to create the opposite. I support Chilliwack Cattle. I wanted a page for people to come and see the real side of dairy, not the one the media portrays.”

When asked about the abuse recorded by MFA and claims from former employees that the owners were well aware of the abuse, Callaghan said she was not ignoring the video or apologizing for the abuse.

“I’ve viewed it. Nothing in the video leads me to believe that the owners were present or knew it was happening. That is why I choose to support them. Perhaps I should have called the page ‘support dairy farmers’, but I didn’t. And I stand by it.”

Callaghan says the Kooyman family have 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.

By Wednesday morning, her petition had 565 signatures.

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