BC’s dairy industry took quick and decisive action last week against Cedar Valley Farms, an organic dairy in Abbotsford, following allegations of animal abuse.
BC Milk Marketing Board circulated a note to industry on October 27 saying that it had suspended the farm’s licence following the receipt of information from the BC SPCA “regarding violations of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle.”
BC SPCA contacted industry organizations on October 25 following its own inspection of the farm the week before. The unannounced inspection was triggered by video footage provided by Animal Justice Canada showing what appears to be violations of the provincial Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act “and potentially the Criminal Code of Canada.
Delegated with enforcement powers under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, BC SPCA is conducting its own investigation alongside one by the marketing board.
“Adherence to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle is mandatory for all dairy farms in BC,” the board says in a statement. “We cannot overstate how important it is that all farms be held to a high standard for the handling of the animals in their care.”
The prompt action by industry reflects lessons from the 2014 case of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, says Holger Schwichtenberg, chair of the BC Dairy Association.
“The biggest step that was taken is that, immediately, the milk licence was suspended so that milk can no longer go into the system and there’s a program in place to look after the animals,” he says. “We’re very supportive of the work that the BCMMB and the BC SPCA are doing in this particular situation.”
Seven years ago, Mercy for Animals activists shot undercover video at Chilliwack Cattle Sales of workers beating and mistreating cattle. The video was released to media, and a public storm erupted that prompted Saputo to refuse milk from the farm, prompting the marketing board to cease collection. Meanwhile, the farm’s owners, the Kooyman family, invited media to tour the operation to see conditions for themselves.
This time, the industry stopped shipments before the processor took action. The family has not spoken to media. So far, public outrage has been kept in check, though that could change as more details emerge. Animal Justice released some of the more than 300 clips that triggered the investigations to CTV on November 4.
A timeline for concluding the investigations at Cedar Valley has not been set.
In addition to having its dairy licence suspended, Cedar Valley’s organic certification is also in jeopardy as the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle forms part of the organic regulations.
Cedar Valley’s certifying body, Pro-Cert Organic Systems Ltd. has not commented on the matter. A revocation of its certification would depend on the outcome of the ongoing investigations.
The investigations could also lead to criminal charges.
“This is a high-priority investigation and we are building a very strong case to present to Crown counsel with a recommendation for charges,” the BC SPCA says.
Seven workers were ultimately charged in the Chilliwack Cattle Sales incident, while company principals Ken and Wesley Kooyman faced fines totalling $345,000 in a sentence the court designed to indicate that animal abuse was unacceptable.
Note: This item was updated November 5 to reflect the release of video footage on November 4.