More details are emerging about the owners of Chilliwack Cattle Sales in B.C., Canada's largest dairy farm and a major supplier to Dairyland, after eight employees were secretly recorded brutally abusing cows.
The undercover video from the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada — shot by a former employee of the farm — shows dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as punched and kicked.
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A day after the B.C. SPCA recommended charges against the eight employees, it has emerged that the same farm was in court in 2008, after six cows were injured while being transferred to slaughter.
The case went to the B.C. Supreme Court, but the farm, which is owned by the Kooyman family, was cleared of all charges.
Then last year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency charged meat processing operation Pitt Meadows Meats, also owned by the Kooymans, with selling E. coli tainted beef in 2010.
That case is still before the courts.
Farm owner Jeff Kooyman said those cases do not reflect on the quality of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, which has 3,500 dairy cows.
"We have high standards and when you're working with that many employees, things do happen. We've got to work harder at regulations, more inspections," said Kooyman.
Kooyman said he and his family knew nothing about the cruel treatment of the cattle, saying his company has zero tolerance for animal abuse.
"It was horrific. The first thing I thought was, 'How can people go that crazy?' It was like a scene from a horror show, it's terrible."
"This is not what we accept and these are not the kind of standards [with which] we care for these cows.… This is not what we do, and we love cows here and care for them as best as possible."
All eight workers identified in the video were fired on Monday night and could face charges of wilfully causing unnecessary pain, suffering and injury to animals.
'Sadistic' animal cruelty
Anna Pippus, director of legal advocacy with Mercy for Animals Canada, described the abuse as sadistic and rejected Kooyman's claim that none of the owners knew about the abuse.
"Our undercover investigator repeatedly brought his concerns to the farm's owners, who failed to take any corrective action," said Pippus.
"The company allowed criminal cruelty to animals to flourish on its watch. Without our investigation, this cruelty would have continued to run rampant indefinitely."
The farm is a major milk supplier to Dairyland, which is owned by Montreal-based dairy giant Saputo. Pippus accuses Dairyland of failing to properly oversee operations at the farm.
"Ultimately it is Dairyland's complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards and oversight of its suppliers that is responsible for allowing a culture of cruelty and neglect to fester at this dairy factory farm."
Cow injuries common
The undercover video, which was taken between May 1 and May 30, also shows dairy cows suffering from open wounds and injuries, and being lifted by their necks with chains and tractors.
Kooyman said such a technique for moving animals was normal — although not in the manner displayed on the video.
"If a cow is really, really stuck, sometimes that is the only way to get this animal out.… It doesn't really hurt the cow, it's happened to us before.
"But not with the yelling, swearing and screaming that we see on the video, that's not acceptable practice."
The farm's lead veterinarian, David Dykshorn of Abbotsford Veterinary Clinic, said the kind of injuries the animals are suffering in the video are common in a modern dairy with a concrete environment.
"Cows are big animals, they play hard and they get roughed up every once in a while," said Dykshorn.
"And cows also behave in a pecking order way, so there's always going to be your boss cows, that push other cows around."
Dykshorn said any lesions, wounds or mastitis suffered by the cows would have been identified by the Kooymans and then treated.
"Cows can get pretty big injuries right away, swelling can occur within six to 12 hours, so the skin breaking open, you see an open wound, that happens pretty quick, within 24 hours.
"Identification within 48 hours is very good, and treatment thereafter is important, of course."
Dykshorn said he visits the farm two to three times a week and has never seen evidence of anything other than good animal welfare standards.
"I was shocked [by the video] to say the least. Treatment of animals like that is unacceptable and as a veterinarian we stress animal welfare, humane handling of animals, and we work with the Kooymans training employees."
Lack of standards
Pippus also called on the government to create enforced legal standards for farmed animals. There are currently no standards in place and investigation is only carried out if complaints are received.
"The government currently does not proactively inspect farms for compliance with animal cruelty laws, which means cruelty and neglect run rampant on dairy factory farms across the country," said Pippus.
"As a civilized society it's our moral obligation to prevent all animals, including farmed animals, from animal abuse."
Pippus also demanded action from Dairyland to prevent further abuse at its suppliers, such as establishing procedures to address the treatment of injured animals and requiring all suppliers to livestream video monitoring to the internet.
Meanwhile, Kooyman said the farm, which is still under B.C. SPCA investigation, will be retraining its employees and installing cameras — and is considering streaming those recordings live online.