The organization that released a hidden-camera video showing cows being beaten on a Chilliwack dairy farm is optimistic that charges will soon be laid in the case.
“We’re urging prosecutors to take quick action to get justice for these abused animals,” said Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, on Monday. “These are clear violations of the law.”
Seven months ago Mercy For Animals released the video, which was shot at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, showing cows being kicked, punched and hit with various implements, and the reaction was swift.
The B.C. SPCA investigated, the farm’s milk was dumped, several of its employees were fired and thousands of consumers threatened a dairy boycott. After a week, the SPCA announced that it had recommended animal-cruelty charges against eight employees from the dairy farm.
To date, however, charges have not been approved by Crown counsel.
When will a decision be made?
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the B.C. SPCA.
Moriarty said the delay is not typical of SPCA-recommended charges, but so far there is no timeline for when the case could move forward.
Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said the charge assessment process is “ongoing.”
“We hope the process will be completed in the relatively near future,” he said, but could not elaborate on when that might be.
MacKenzie said that while charge approval is often straightforward and takes a matter of days, the Chilliwack case contains “some complicated issues.” Early in the process, Crown counsel needed to go back to the SPCA for more information.
Meanwhile, farmers, industry groups and the SPCA have been working to ensure the situation is never repeated.
By March, B.C. dairy farms will be subject to random inspections to ensure they meet the national code of practice for the care and handling of dairy cows, which has become mandatory.
Bob Ingratta, CEO of the B.C. Milk Marketing Board, confirmed independent animal-care inspectors will randomly visit dairy farms to ensure compliance.
While they will have an educational role, the inspectors — a team of eight people familiar with dairy cows — will also write reports on non-compliant farms that will then go to a steering committee that advises the milk board.
While the board is not able to lay fines, it can inhibit the ability of farms to purchase milk production quotas or take advantage of bonuses. In serious cases, such as animal abuse, the milk board will be able to suspend or cancel a farm’s licence to produce milk.
Ingratta said the marketing board, which regulates the production and marketing of milk in B.C., is able to enforce the code after making the case that animal welfare is part of orderly marketing.
Milk processors, including Saputo and Avalon Dairy, have appealed the marketing board’s decision to the Farm Industry Review Board, arguing it could “force” processors to take milk from farms.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but we have producer support,” Ingratta said of the process. “B.C. producers care about their cows and want to do the right thing.”
The B.C. Dairy Association is also working with farmers to refine animal care standards with a “clear workbook” on how to implement the standards in the dairy code, said spokesman Trevor Hargreaves. The national program is being tested across Canada; test sites include 25 B.C. farms.
“I am very optimistic about the future,” said Hargreaves. “We’re committed to doing everything possible to ensure this never happens again.”
Source: The Province