Saputo, producer of Dairyland dairy products, says it is no longer accepting milk from Chilliwack Cattle Sales, a B.C. farm where eight employees were caught on video beating cattle.
The move comes after Mercy for Animals Canada released undercover video last week, showing dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as punched and kicked, at Canada's largest dairy farm.
It also showed cows suffering from open wounds and injuries, and being lifted by their necks with chains and tractors — and prompted 100,000 people to sign a change.org petition calling for Saputo to take action.
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In a statement released Monday, Saputo said it is leading the charge for reform in animal treatment.
"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 . . . does not occur in the future," said the statement.
The Montreal-based company said it has reached out to the province's minister of agriculture as well as the B.C. Dairy Association, the B.C. Dairy Council and the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board.
"Saputo has taken the lead in bringing industry stakeholders together behind a common goal: to ensure immediate consequences for those involved and enforceable legal measures to prevent future animal abuse," it said.
It said it also supports the recommendation of the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that the Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, published in 2009, be adopted into B.C. law.
In the wake of the video, the B.C. Milk Marketing Board suspended milk pickup from the B.C. farm, but reinstated it a day later following a report from veterinarians and assurances from Chilliwack Cattle Sales it was complying with B.C. SPCA orders.
In announcing its action, Saputo noted that it does not own or operate any dairy farms in British Columbia or anywhere else in Canada and, like all dairy processors in Canada, is required by law to purchase milk from provincial milk marketing boards.
"While we do not own the farms, we care deeply about the way the milk we sell is produced. We will not accept milk from the B.C. Milk Marketing Board supplied by this farm until we are fully satisfied that strict animal welfare practices are in place," it said.
SPCA still investigating
Chilliwack Cattle fired eight employees after the group Mercy for Animals Canada took the video to authorities.
The SPCA has recommended criminal charges against them but to date no charges have been laid and nothing has been proven in court.
The farm's owner, Jeff Kooyman, has described the video as "horrifying to watch" and said he didn't know what got into the young men seen kicking, punching and beating the animals with pipes.
Kooyman has said the dairy operation — the country's largest, with more than 3,500 animals — will put in security cameras that will be monitored and would work with the SPCA on better training for staff.
In a statement Monday, Kooyman invited representatives from Saputo to visit the farm in person.
"We would like to extend an open invitation to Saputo to come and view the farm and level of animal care for themselves," said Kooyman. "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.”"
Mercy for Animals has said the company failed to provide adequate training or respond to the concerns raised by its undercover member before the video's release.
It rejected claims by farm co-owner Jeff Kooyman that none of the owners knew about the abuse.
B.C. SPCA enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty said Chilliwack Cattle Sales has so far been co-operating with its investigation.
In 2008, Chilliwack Cattle Sales was cleared of charges relating to the transport of injured cows.