B.C. tightens rules for care of dairy cattle

National standards adopted after last year's revelations of abuse by employees at a Chilliwack dairy farm

No charges have been laid after a video surfaced last year of abuse of animals at Chilliwack Cattle Sales

The B.C. government is adopting national standards for care of dairy cattle, a measure called for by the SPCA after a video surfaced showing abuse of cows last year at a Chilliwack farm.

The National Dairy Code of Practice covers shelter, feed and water as well as veterinary care and handling practices. It prohibits electric prods, hitting, kicking and shouting when handling cattle.

The code also demands that dairy farms recognize the companionship needs of cattle, and that their barns need adequate lighting and non-slip floors.

Eight employees of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Canada’s largest dairy farm, were fired last June after a video showed them beating cows with sticks, chains and rakes. The B.C. Milk Marketing Board lifted its ban on milk purchases from the farm after inspecting its operation and imposing monitoring on it.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick announced the adoption of the code at the Cloverdale SPCA shelter Wednesday. He said the specific standards will help industry regulators and judges determine if cruelty to animals has been committed.

The SPCA recommended charges of wilfully causing “unnecessary pain, suffering and injury to animals” against the former Chilliwack employees, but Crown prosecutors have not yet decided on whether to proceed.

Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer of the B.C. SPCA, praised the adoption of the new code.

“We can’t change the past but we can change the present and affect the future,” Moriarty said. “Hopefully we won’t ever see a repeat of what happened last year.”

The B.C. SPCA receives an average of 8,800 cruelty complaints a year. About a quarter of those involve farm animals, but most of those involve treatment of horses. Moriarty said complaints about dairy farms are rare.

Dave Eto, CEO of the B.C. Dairy Association, said he welcomes whistleblowers such as the employee who captured video of the abuse in Chilliwack.

“It’s somewhat self-destructive for a farmer to want to have animal abuse, especially for dairy cows,” Eto said. “an unhappy cow does not produce milk.”