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The EATEN PATH: Video of cattle abuse in Chilliwack leaves a sour taste

This still from a video produced by animal rights organization Mercy for Animals at Chilliwack Cattle Sales shows a man repeatedly kicking a helpless cow in the head. - Mercy For Animals video
This still from a video produced by animal rights organization Mercy for Animals at Chilliwack Cattle Sales shows a man repeatedly kicking a helpless cow in the head.
— image credit: Mercy For Animals video

The abuse is unmistakable and hard to watch.

Eight employees of Canada’s largest dairy farm, Chilliwack Cattle Sales, are filmed punching, kicking and beating cows at the Prairie Central operation owned by the Kooyman family.

“Woo-hoo!” one employee yells as another in a tractor uses a chain to lift a cow into the air by her neck.

“Leave her hanging,” one voice is heard saying.

This is where your milk comes from.

“I have to say I have worked at the SPCA for 14 years and I have seen the most disturbing videos,” community relations general manager Lorie Chortyk told the Times Monday, “and I have seen nothing that sickened me like this.”

The BC Dairy Association (BCDA) was similarly shocked, and was quick to express the sentiment that the abuse at this farm is not the norm.

“Organizationally we have a zero tolerance policy around these issues and we feel it vital to assert that this abuse is in no way common practice in our industry,” BCDA chairman Dave Taylor said in a statement.

“This event is a black mark in the eye of our industry. Having witnessed the footage, we are deeply shaken.”

As for the Kooymans, owners of this the largest dairy farm in the country, they too expressed shock and stated they were “devastated by the thought that animals in our care have been harmed.”

“These alleged actions in no way reflect the farming and animal care standards practised by our family or by the dairy industry,” said a statement issued on behalf of the Kooymans by communications firm Orchestra Communications, a company with a specialty in crisis management.

The video itself was created by Toronto-based animal rights organization Mercy For Animals (MFA), which works to promote vegetarianism and veganism.

MFA had an investigator get hired on as an employee at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. He or she worked from May 1 to 30, and authorities were contacted while the investigation was underway, according to Twyla Francois, director of investigations.

Francois could not say whether MFA had any other investigators working undercover at dairy operations or animal farms in Chilliwack.

She said Chilliwack Cattle Sales was not directly targeted, but locations are chosen randomly with investigators applying for jobs and working with whoever hires them.

MFA doesn’t accept the industry and company claims that the incident was an anomaly.

“This factory farm was chosen completely randomly, which leads us to believe that cruelty and violence runs rampant in the dairy industry,” Francois told the Times. “Before joining Mercy For Animals Canada, I conducted investigations into Canada’s dairy industry and was horrified by what I saw—emaciated, sick, injured, and even animals unable to stand on their own, were routinely brought to livestock auctions in clear violation of the law. The livestock auction industry even had a term for these cows: C3, which stands for clunkers, canners and cripples.”

The video raises a lot of questions: How could the owners have possibly not known about the abuse? If they did know, will they be charged criminally? If they didn’t know, who is doing the hiring and oversight of both animals and employees?

There will be defenders of the Kooymans, and critics of an urban Toronto-based animal rights group coming to the eastern Fraser Valley to catch “our” farmers abusing animals, but the video is hard to ignore.

Crown counsel in New Westminster is at the stage of reviewing details of the cases and considering charges against eight employees who appeared in the MFA videos. All employees have been fired, but names have not been released.

As for avoiding dairy products created in factory farms, that isn’t easy, although most grocery stories carry lines of certified organic dairy.

But if you’re interested in products created by standards the BC SPCA has certified as humane, there is only one: Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. Check out their 16 artisan cheeses on Vancouver Island at www.cheeseworks.ca.

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