I wasn’t going to touch it, but 140 character banter on Twitter just wasn’t productive or getting any sort of message across.
This is an opinion piece and not based on any extensive research, but I want to acknowledge the subject matter regarding Dairy Farmers of Canada.
If you haven’t heard the recent news or seen the disturbing video on the alleged animal abuse which took place at a Chilliwack farm in British Columbia, then you can click the link. I didn’t feel it was necessary to show on here although I’ve done it before. I didn’t even watch it until recently because I’ve seen videos of similar content which brought me to tears. I could assume what was on it, but to gather facts is to watch it, so I did. Yes, it’s horrible, awful, disgusting and cruel, but now what?
I read the statement from Saputo and Dairyland Canada and it’s everything I expected them to say, but I want to draw attention to the paragraph which states: “It should be noted all dairy processors are required, under provincial legislation, to purchase their milk through the BCMMB (British Columbia Milk Marketing Board) and we therefore do not have the ability to select the farms from which milk is sourced.” This is true.
In September 2013 I visited the dairy farm Vitala Foods in Abbotsford, BC on a media tour. I met Bill Vanderkooi, the owner and President of Vitala Foods, and his wife Helinda who were wonderful people. They have four children and work hard to put them to school and give them a good life, as every parent should. I saw the farm, facility, maybe a dozen cows, milking process and even had dinner with Bill and his wife and other media afterward. I didn’t write about the experience and I didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge to share at the time.
Throughout the tour they kept stressing the traceability of their milk and how they were the only farm where the milk traces directly back to the farm. I didn’t quite understand or recognize the importance, so I contacted about a dozen Canadian dairy farms afterward for further research. Less than a handful replied with somewhat of a respectable answer.
The fact is, is all dairy farmers within each province (with the exception of Vitala Foods in BC) put their milk in a pool which is then sent to an individual processor. Even organic milk has their own province-wide pool. Dairyland Canada happens to be the largest dairy processor in Canada. So just as the statement said, dairy processors have no control over which farm the milk is coming from. They cannot choose the farm. End of discussion… but maybe it should be for discussion. I don’t know how the policy works, but I’m sure some industry members, groups or activist, has already rallied for it before.
I’m by no means supporting animal cruelty or doing PR for Dairy Farmers of Canada, but I can’t help but to address the opinions and comments boycotting the entire dairy industry, let alone Dairy Farmers of Canada. Each to their own (and this is my own), but deciding to go dairy-free or vegan is not a solution.
“One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” – exactly what’s happening here. It is completely unfair to boycott dairy products because of this unfortunate incident(s). There are still many local, ethical and small innocent dairy farms and farmers who will suffer as a result of this video and a potential boycott. The livelihood of these farmers are dependent on dairy processors and consumers, and since all their milk is pooled it is hard for anyone to control or know where exactly everything is coming from, but it’s not impossible.
At this point everyone wants their hands clean and all the denials of what was happening on that farm are hard to believe. I get it. Many people are skeptical and I’ve read many “I’ll believe it when I see it” comments, but doesn’t this mentality apply to everything?
How do you know the clothes you’re wearing aren’t stitched by 12 year olds getting paid $.25 an hour? Because you made it yourself? Was it made from cotton? Who picked the cotton? How do you know though? How do you know where anything really comes from? How do you know your organic vegetables are really organic? How do you know your life isn’t The Truman Show? To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind.
Do I feel lied to? I trusted Dairyland and am confident in Canadian farms, but I don’t feel lied to because I didn’t do anything to get more educated about it either. I can’t go around blaming other people for my lack of awareness. But how would I know and how much research are you willing to do? And are you willing to go across Canada to do it? Or even read the Milk Industry Act – BC Laws or Milk Industry Standards Regulation? And that’s just a start.
But let’s go back to the “I’ll believe it when I see it”… okay, then go see it. Or is it easier to boycott? The farms are there, many of them open to public visits or organized tours, so go see them. Go meet the farmers and see for yourself and then buy direct from these farms, but remember several of them sell their milk to processors. Yes, it’s a bit of a “dog chasing its tail” game.
Anyway, I don’t know them all, but some dairy farms open for visits in BC are Birchwood Dairy, Bakerview EcoDairy, Avalon Dairy, Aldor Acres Dairy Farm, Goat’s Pride Dairy at McLennan Creek, The Farm House Natural Cheeses, and of course Vitala Foods. Just a reminder, Vitala milk is a small amount of specialty milk and cannot be pooled since they are the only ones producing it. They also partner with Avalon and Meadowfresh who pack their milk and yogurt. And before you write off Chilliwack, don’t forget to check out Happy Days Dairies Ltd before making your decision. I haven’t visited all of them, so I can’t vouch for what I listed, but I’ve seen a few and will make efforts to see more. Don’t anti-dairy as a solution, but be pro-active.
I’ve visited dozens of farms locally and abroad and still have hundreds more to go. I’m lucky to have seen happy animals who seem to live life better than humans too. For example at Vitala Foods and Aldor Acres Dairy Farm, the cows are well cared for and pampered, and at Au Goût d’Autrefois in Quebec, Monsieur Jacques was “The Duck Whisperer”. Then over at goat farms Carmelis in Kelowna or nearby Milner Valley Cheese in Langley, the goats were seemingly happy. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Am I going to question if these animals were drugged while I was there? Or maybe they set-up the whole thing and showed me their “show cows” because I was “media”. I mean I haven’t sat there to see all hundred cows being milked. I’m not at these farms every day and I don’t know what happens on a daily basis, but at some point you just have to have faith and not all farmers are created equal. There are good and bad farmers because in the world there are good and bad (or sick) people.
Realistically I’m not going undercover and kudos to those who did in the video, and shame on those who knew of the abuse and remained silent, but how much can we question and how far are we willing to go before our minds are at peace? Will there ever be a guarantee? In life there is no guarantee.
As proven, we can’t take everything at face value, and I don’t, as you may have noticed in all my articles, but when do we stop? Do you have the means to start a farm? Are you going to quit your job to work on one? No, so boycotting dairy is the answer… really?
If you’re avoiding butter then you might as well not eat out unless you know exactly where that butter is being made… but again, remember: the milk is pooled. Then what happens to the restaurateur? He loses out too? Maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion, but it goes both ways.
Opening another can of worms for another article, but how do you think the flour industry is doing after gluten-free made it big? Surely there are good people in that industry too.
So, If you’re boycotting dairy then what? You’re going to “discover the joy of soy”… okay good luck with those GMO’s. How about almond milk? Okay, but again the GMO’s and remember to look at how much those workers are getting paid to get you those almonds. But, what? You buy organic? Great, but not all organic is created equal. There are standards for “organic”, but some are barely passing while others define it. Others live by it, but can’t afford the official “organic” government label (which is expensive for any small farmer by the way)… but again, for another article.
There are still a lot of missing pieces and surely the BCMMB, Dairyland Canada, and dairy farms and farmers in general are under a lot of pressure. What’s happened is a blessing in disguise in the sense that everything will be put under a microscope (let’s hope) and policies will be revisited.
Let’s be honest, this is not the first time animal cruelty has been caught on camera. Sadly it happens everyday all over the word, but it gets put back in the spotlight when negative material like this is exposed. We’re reminded to take action.
Every time there is social change, someone is affected so it’s inevitable to have someone lose out. It just depends on whom, and in this case it might be good-hearted farmers and people. Simple cause and effect.
I don’t have a long-term solution, but I encourage research, fact checking, and asking questions before making a decision. Nothing is worse than a misinformed or uninformed decision. I’m not saying I never make them, after all I’m human, but avoid jumping on a bandwagon which causes a trickle down affect where innocent people suffer.
The entire dairy industry doesn’t deserve to be creamed. I don’t want to judge your life decisions, but this is an opinion piece and I can’t help but to raise questions.
**Updated news: Saputo, producer of Dairlyland products, announced in a statement Monday, June 16, they were dropping sales with Chilliwack Cattle Sales. They do not own or operate any farms in Canada and SPCA is still investigating further.