If you’ve been following the news, you may have heard of a recent video released by non-profit group, Mercy for Animals Canada which shows eight employees brutally and viciously beating cows with rakes, chains, canes and booted feet. It is a very hard video to watch, but one that must absolutely be seen.
The immediate corporate response and ensuing consumer backlash has been somewhat disappointing. A CTV interview of farm owner, Jeff Kooyman, in my personal opinion, was insincere to say the least. I’m no psychologist or facial expression expert, but to me he appeared non-chalante and unsympathetic – his demeanor was not consistent with his very quotable words.
Consumers have responded by wanting to ban all Dairyland and Saputo products, which if actually carried through, would indeed send a clear message to the Chilliwack farm – but unfortunately has the side effect of creaming the entire industry along with innocent farmers. That’s because most large scale dairy processors buy milk that is essentially a giant amalgamation of milk from various farms that has been inspected and pooled together. Thus, punishing the Dairyland brand also punishes other farmers who are selling into this same pool.
Unfortunately, the only way we as consumers can truly be heard and drive action will by default hurt other farms undeservedly, but hopefully temporarily. This doesn’t change the fact that something must be done to demand greater accountability and transparency of the dairy industry.
According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, “Canada has no regulations stipulating how animals should be treated on farms other than federal and provincial animal cruelty laws, and these are only used to prosecute livestock producers in cases of rare and egregious abuse, such as when animals are neglected to the point of starvation.”
The federal government is currently funding the development of a new Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals. The problem is that the only way such standards can actually make any meaningful difference would be for them to be passed into law and incorporated into the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. We have a long ways to go to improving the lives of the animals that sustain us –and time is only passing us by.
Not every farmer abuses their animals, but until the industry embraces greater transparency and accountability, it is up to you and I to act. How can you help? Take some time TODAY to take action. You don’t have to do everything I’ve listed below, but if everyone does SOMETHING, we can together champion this much needed change.
1. The only voice louder than regulation and even moral obligation – is the voice of your wallet.
Dairyland is owned and operated by Saputo which is one of the largest global producers of dairy products (perhaps contributing to the fact that this abuse was happening unnoticed and unreported). Their brands are listed below, and available in this handy printable wallet reference card.
2. Ask your grocer to demand for change too.
Retailers can exert enormous pressure on their vendors, and vendors take these concerns very seriously. Remember how quickly the industry responded to consumers’ alarm at BPA in plastic drinking bottles? Before this concern became mainstream, I had to order stainless steel bottles from Vancouver. Now, safe alternatives are everywhere. Let’s get retailers on our side to demand for accountability and transparent reporting from dairy processors and producers.
3. Exercise your democratic rights.
I’ve sat in a few community and legislative meetings, and whenever it’s stated that “the public” supports or opposes an action, politicians will inevitably reference how many constituents contacted them to express their opinion either way. These numbers are always startlingly low – often with only a handful of letters or contacts being referenced. In the bureaucracy that is our government, politicians, ministry offices and boards respond to direct inquiries, but may not (or may not choose to) be aware of issues that are not brought to their immediate attention. Write or call your provincial MLA or MP. Ask them what they are doing to respond to this incident and what they are doing to prevent it from happening again.
4. Support your local small farmers. They’re worth it.
The farming industry has transformed drastically, with fewer small farms able (or willing) to stay in business, and more and more concentrated farm animal operations taking over the race to rock bottom prices. Yes, we all love cheap milk and cheese – but cheap always costs someone. In this case cheap comes at the price of animal welfare.
Small farmers who are transparent with their customers, who take pride in their operations and who practice ethical farming deserve your support. Personally, I buy game meat from John and Judy at Second Wind Elk who have a stall at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market. Farmer’s markets are everywhere – find one near you and get to know who is raising the animals you are choosing to eat.
5. Embrace milk alternatives.
There are a few simple facts that simply can’t be ignored when it comes to Canada’s virtually insatiable thirst for dairy. Milk is designed to feed and nourish a baby through infancy. Humans are the only species on this planet that continue to drink milk into adulthood, and are the only species to drink the milk of another animal. And to further illustrate our distorted perceptions of milk – most people would react in disgust if asked to drink a healthy woman’s breast milk yet have no qualms about downing a tall glass of cow milk from an animal that spends its days in a dark and dank barn hooked up to machinery that can cause mastitis.
In recent years, a number of milk alternatives have entered the mass market. While each product has its own pros and cons, variety and a general approach of consuming less can only help. Some alternatives include soy milk, nut milks (almond, hemp, cashew etc), rice milk, and of course, our beautifully clean Canadian fresh water. Worried about calcium? Remember – we have all evolved to thrive in adulthood without milk. Some healthy sources of calcium include dark leafy greens such as seaweed (with a 100g serving providing 17% DV), collards, (21% DV), kale (21% DV) and broccoli (12% DV).
The best disinfectant is sunshine, and that holds ever so true with morality. Let’s shine brightly on this industry and transform it into one that is governed by humanity and morality.