Dairy Farmers of Canada (Animal Abuse Video) – Opinion piece

Langley-Circle-Farm-Tour-Mijune-3Opinion Piece: Dairy Farmers of Canada (Animal Abuse Video)

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 EcoDairyAvalon Dairy, Aldor Acres Dairy FarmGoat’s Pride Dairy at McLennan CreekThe 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.

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**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.

Jeff Kooyman, co-owner of Chilliwack Cattle fired the eight employees caught on tape, invited representatives to visit the farm in person, and is installing security cameras to monitor his staff. He claims he knew nothing of the abuse and there are no charges to date until the case is resolved in court.

14 Comments

  • Erwin says:

    Excellent read. This touches on two social problems brought about by information accessibility: negativity and mistrust. Too often, those reactions are indeed warranted, but many horrible issues are made even worse because of these two habits of entitlement. I encourage everyone to check their negativity and mistrust before pointing fingers.

    Thank you for shining light on the topic in a positive, constructive, and REALISTIC manner. I look forward to your discussions on GMO’s, organic, gluten-free, and other fad diets and dietary buzzwords.

  • Yves Farges says:

    Every dairy farm should have the right to sell their milk, butter, and cheese directly to anyone they wish as long as they adhere to sanitary rules that are reasonable and enforceable. It is a SCANDAL that a farm cannot make a superior butter (easy considering the mediocre basal quality of what comes to market today) and sell it directly to a restaurant or end user. As for the endless paranoid and idiotic fear-mongering in Canada about raw milk cheeses I can only state that there are more people eating raw milk cheeses in Europe regularly that the population of Canada. The marketing Boards of Canada are nothing more than ad hoc monopolies of mediocrity for profit. Quality is the victim. The exploited consumer and the Chef seeking qualitative ingredients are afterthoughts of a Marketing policy with profit for a select few the objective instead of health and commercial freedom, in that order.

  • Mandi Ayers says:

    Excellent article. I have friends that have a small Dairy farm here in Smithers that sell their milk to the BCMMB and they would be the ones hurt by a boycott.

  • Syd says:

    yer best post ever.

  • STEW says:

    THIS ARTICLE IS JUST WHAT IT SAYS “OPINION” HERE IS THE AWFUL TRUTH AND WHAT THE REAL EXPERTS SAY http://www.lcanimal.org/index.php/campaigns/other-issues/factory-farming Why does your opinions matter??? Because you are given such a Huge podium. When in doubt say NOTHING!

  • Mijune, thank-you for taking on this daunting subject and for adding the lovely photo of you with our girls. We are sad and disheartened with what has happened to those cows in Chilliwack. It actually took me two times to watch the whole thing, I had to walk away. I want to be clear, animal abuse of any kind is NEVER okay. It is unacceptable. Their contempt for the animals was clear and shocking. Every dairy farmer knows that happy healthy cows produce the highest quality and quantities of milk, that can’t have been happening there.

    Erwin, you nailed it with your comment on negativity and mistrust. I’m not sure how to best confront these issues except with fact and a lack of anger. We are always available for tours and encourage peoples questions but there are times when I feel visitors just want to believe the worst. You can lead a horse to water…

    Yves, every dairy farmer in BC, and Canada has the right to sell our products directly to the consumer. The fact is most of us CHOOSE not to, there is no scandal to this. If someone wants to, they can apply for the appropriate licenses and permits, build a food safe facility, hire staff and start down the merry road to creating their own brand and niche products. Most of us already have a 24/7 job to do looking after our dairy farms and choose to let the processing companies handle this! Just off the top of my head though, I can think of 4 that take this risk on and do their own processing; Blackwell Dairy (Kamloops), D Dutchman Dairy (Shuswap), Vitala and Birchwood Dairy (Abbotsford), and there are more.
    As for the quality of the dairy products on the market today, there is no doubt in my mind that we, as a province, are shipping top quality CQM (Canadian Quality Milk) certified products. This program that we all operate under has measureable, quantifiable, health and sanitation standards, in order for us to sell milk. Record keeping and traceability is a huge part of every dairy farmers job (not just Vitala).
    As for what farms ship their milk to which processor…we used to be able to choose. We were usually members of farmer owned co-operatives, with Dairyland being the last surviving one until it went belly up in 2001ish. It was bought out by Saputo who kept the brand name going. As this was a sudden and potentially volatile change to the industry the BC Milk Marketing Board stepped in to be the first receiver of all milk, and the processors then put in bids to them, and the board co-ordinated pick-ups from farms. As this continues to work well it hasn’t been changed. Interestingly, milk travels less now, as it often is shipped to the closest plant to the farms. In the past it may have travelled miles past a closer one simply based on which co-op a farmer belonged to.

  • Serena says:

    Very well written article.

    I am the daughter of a dairy farmer. When I saw the video it made me nauseous. The saying ‘One Bad Apple Spoils the Whole Barrel’ is so true. That video is NOT representative of every farmer.

    @STEW – The Website you linked to is simply not true. There are no facts there. Is like to encourage you to visit a farm and see for yourself. You might find you are pleasantly surprised.

  • Andrew says:

    Dear Mr STEW,

    You, my friend, are a moron.
    Your so-called “real-experts” have no more basis for calling themselves experts about farming procedures then I do for calling myself a master-somelier because I have tasted wine in my life.
    Mijune’s piece was well-researched, relates specifically to the matter-at-hand and shows reflection.
    The website you linked is only spewing its own brand of scare-mongering and lacks any kind of journalistic integrity, and is simply complete trash.

    If the purpose of your post was to simply reinforce how much better this article is, then well done, because that is all you have achieved.
    In the future, you should follow your own advice of saying nothing

  • Trent Jackson says:

    This fails to recognize that boycotting a brand such as Dairyland Canada is different than boycotting the industry as a whole, 95% of the posts I’ve read cite boycotting Dairyland/Saputo as a BRAND. This is important to state because this doesn’t change the demand for the product (dairy) as consumers are switching brands. Therefore all the ‘good apples’ in the industry are not actually effected, as demand for other brands increase the supply/demand is left unchanged.

    Yes there will be some small margin that stop consuming dairy entirely and switch to alternative products as Mijune mentions however that is going to happen in any industry where negligence affects the mass public interest (remember BSE)

    Still Mijune has a well written and thought out piece I just think it is important to mention that voting with your dollar DOES MATTER, it’s the consumers weapon to boycott brands that put profits in front of public interest.

    The reason for a boycott of Dairyland/Saputo products is to send a message that as Canada’s largest supplier of milk, they need to lead the charge on regulations that introduce and maintain responsible and transparent practices, and it SHOULD NOT have taken a horrific event such as this one (or the other incident on the easy coast) for Dairyland/Saputo to address the issue of monitoring good business practice in their own supply chain.

    Thanks for covering this issue Mijune, my family farms in Alberta and I’m thankful you chose to bring additional coverage on this horrific incident, regardless of my opinion we can all agree change is needed and coming.

  • Brad Gash says:

    Great piece, Mijune! There’s always a strong temptation for a blanket boycott, and certainly I don’t blame people for feeling that way (I’ve considered it on occasion, especially re pork and egg producers), but as you say, a much better approach is to search out the ethical producers and find out how to buy their stuff. I’m all about voting with my wallet.

    For dairy, for the benefit of your readers in Ontario and eastern Quebec, Harmony milk is a stellar ethical milk company, which I highly recommend checking out.

    Just a side comment in response to Erwin’s remarks on “fad” diets and “buzz words” – the market is certainly swimming with dubious health claims and misinformation, but if I’m reading your comment correctly, I would take exception to the desire to reduce consumption of highly processed foods (or in the case of gluten, something that makes some people very sick) being minimised as “fads” or “buzz words.” The benefits of eating foods without pesticides, hormones; or the benefits of reducing ones consumption of highly processed foods have been amply demonstrated scientifically. The market is still young and a mix of clearly beneficial and highly dubious, but let’s not cast such a broad net over people’s desire to eat food that’s a little closer to nature.

  • Donna Blight says:

    I thought your piece was good, but this subject is very emotional for people. We see commercials from Dairy Farmers of Canada promoting yogurt with dancing Cows. So
    I think to myself how important these animals are to Farmers, they are their bread and butter and to see these lowlife beating them is outrageous. How can I be assured that this doesn’t
    go on in other dairies..because they say it doesn’t . I want ethical treatment for farm animals,
    maybe cameras need to be placed in barns or unannounced inspections. I don’t know…
    but I can’t buy from Saputo/Dairyland until I hear what they are doing about this. They need to do something to Chilliwack Cattle Co…a fine, a sincere apology…something! This dairy, who I have heard knew about the abuse and turned their backs, have been making lots of money at the pain and suffering of their cows… So who pays for this abuse? The Cows! I hope we don’t turn our backs on them. I am sure the majority of dairies are ethical, but seeing what I did, has
    made me wonder!

  • Alan says:

    Donna, I don’t think you actually understood the entire text of the article. You are somehow linking Saputo with the farm, when the link doesn’t really exist as the research points out. In fact, due to the fact the farm in question is much closer to the Island Farms Milk plant in Chilliwack, it is more than likely that a large proportion of that milk went there rather than to Saputo in Burnaby.

    Now that Saputo has refused to take the milk, what did everybody think was going to happen to the milk production from that farm? No other producer was going to willingly take it and then put themselves in the crosshairs of the special interest groups organizing boycotts. The lack of understanding and knee-jerk reactions have created a situation where thousands of liters of milk are being needlessly wasted.

  • Emma Gregory says:

    i really appreciate this post.

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