Animal welfare watchdogs go undercover

Mercy for Animals doesn’t work on tips

Mercy for Animals Canada

Mercy for Animals Canada

He seemed just another guy looking for work, hungry enough to sign on for the midnight shift in the milking barn of the Chilliwack Cattle Co., the largest dairy operation in Canada. He had no inside knowledge about the operation, or how it treated its 3,500 head of cattle; it was just the first company to hire him. His initial shift as a milker was April 30, the start of a month from hell, for he wasn’t a rookie farmhand but a modestly paid investigator for a young Canadian non-profit group, Mercy for Animals, equipped with a hidden camera.

It soon became clear there was little about life on the night shift that resembled the heavily marketed image of milk as the wholesome product of contented cows. Instead, workers used rakes, pipes, chains, workboots and fists to whip and pummel helpless cows. There were cows with open sores and infections. Ailing cows had chains wrapped around their necks and were hoisted onto their hind legs with a tractor. “Woo hoo! Leave her like that, leave her hangin’,” shouted one worker as a cow dangled from the hoist. All this was surreptitiously recorded on video, and outlined in a 25-page complaint sent to the RCMP in Chilliwack and the cruelty investigations team of the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA). Constables for the SPCA launched an investigation and announced June 9 that they had submitted a report to the B.C. Crown attorney’s office recommending Criminal Code charges against eight employees for “wilfully causing unnecessary pain, suffering and injury to animals.”

The investigation continues and the Crown has yet to determine if charges will be laid. But the video, which has gone viral, has already had a devastating impact, adding to Mercy for Animals’ growing reputation as a potent force for animal welfare. The B.C. Dairy Association is co-operating with the SPCA. David Taylor, chairman of the association, said the group is “deeply concerned and saddened.” The Chilliwack Cattle Co. quickly hired a media public relations company and issued a statement by Jeff Kooyman, a co-owner of the company: “These allegations are extremely serious and we are devastated by the thought that animals in our care have been harmed.” Days later Kooyman announced the workers in the video had been terminated, and the company, which supplies much of its product to the Dairyland brand, will be working with the SPCA to improve training to new employees, and will put all staff through a course on animal welfare. “Further to this, the company will be installing closed-circuit cameras to ensure round-the-clock security for the cows.” Amid calls for a boycott, Saputo, Canada’s largest dairy producer and owner of the Dairyland brand, issued a statement saying, “We will not accept milk from the B.C. Milk Marketing Board supplied by this farm until we are fully satisfied that strict animal welfare practices are in place.”

Mercy for Animals, modelled on a related U.S. charity, began Canadian operations two years ago. Where groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) rely on outrageous stunts, Mercy, operating on a modest $350,000 budget last year, sends people undercover into factory farms. The Chilliwack case is its sixth, and all yielded stomach-churning examples of abuse and neglect, including a Quebec veal farm where calves were chained into crates and often beaten; an Ontario chicken hatchery where chicks that fail the grade are scalded to death or ground alive; a Manitoba farm where pregnant pigs are jammed in cages so small they are unable to move. The group doesn’t rely on tips; investigators work where they get hired. Because of the random selection, said Anna Pippus, director of legal advocacy, “it leads us to believe cruelty runs rampant throughout the factory farming industry.”

While the pro-vegan organization advocates for laws requiring farm inspections and enforceable cruelty standards, it’s the undercover work that draws attention and shock value. The male and female investigators, ranging from accountants to tradespeople, are trained in hidden-camera work, record keeping and safety strategies to extract themselves from risky situations. “They love animals and it’s hard for them to stand back and document [abuse],” said Twyla Francois, director of investigations and a former investigator herself. She acts as their handler. “I check in with them every day. We talk about how they’re doing, how they’re coping with what they’re seeing.” The agent at Chilliwack, while careful not to blow his cover, reported abuses and intervened when he could, she said. “I think they learned to tune him out, unfortunately.” He quit before the video was released and is working at another factory farm, one of several investigations under way. “He’s hardcore,” Francois said with pride.

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Animal welfare watchdogs go undercover

  1. Serial killers, mass murderers and the like almost always have an incident of animal abuse in their youth.

    To torture and kill so much as a cat often foreshadows a prison offense later on.

    If we want to stop the killing of humans, starting with the animals would be a good idea.

  2. I’m glad they are out there investigating and busting the ones that are abusing animals. But do they have any kind of “seal of approval” for those places where their investigations turn up nothing? That, too, can be instructive for both consumers and producers.

    • A “seal of approval” for farms would not suit MFA’s agenda in creating videos designed to shock the public and keep the donations rolling in.

  3. MacLeans has not reported on anything that we did not already know about in this article~~Why hasn’t MacLeans done some of their own independent sleuthing on the case? There are more parts to this story than what you have written!! Get your own intelligent investigative journalist and start some serious work; perphaps, it might even increase sales for MacLeans!!!

  4. The Chilliwack Cattle investigation reveals only a relatively small part of the overall fate of dairy
    I was appalled to observe thousands of cows on conveyer belts and the animal cruelty Mastitis and foot and mouth disease have to be dealt with on an ongoing basis
    Some 70 percent of Canadian dairy cows never go out on a green pasture They live their entire lives on concrete paved factory farm conditions

    Cows must give birth every year in order to produce milk, so farms artificially impregnate them and then take the calves away as soon as they are born so that humans can drink the milk These mother cows exist in an almost constant state of pregnancy. They will never know their babies

    If the calf is a male it is usually tethered for its short life to become veal
    Female calves re- enter the cycle of giving birth, producing milk. and slaughter

    In normal conditions when a mother cow is feeding its calf it consumes some 6 to 8 liters of milk a day Now dairy cows produce the staggering quantity of 30 liters a day hence the quote – veritable milking machines

    The average cow should have a life-span of some 20 to 25 years.
    After 4 or 5 years once dairy cows no longer produce peak quantities of milk they are slaughtered mostly for hamburger meat. The ongoing question is to wonder whether cows raised in unnatural conditions, shunted from place to place in fear can produce healthful milk

    Statistics show that during the past few years dairy consumption is dramatically down, partly due to health concerns regarding the numerous hormones in all milk including animal estrogens There are now many viable non dairy beverages and non casein cheeses freely available at most stores

    This is a major trend in its infancy The public is becoming aware of how inherently cruel the dairy industry is

    • I’m a 3rd generation farmer living one farm over from the farm that my grandfather bought when he returned home from WW2. I should be working now but will take a minute to address a few points.

      I’m not making excuses for the people in the video, I do not condone animal cruelty in any form and I hope that they are charged for their actions.

      Yes, cows must give birth in order to produce milk, just like any other mammal (humans, whales…)
      We Artificially Inseminate the cows, using real bull semen from a facility properly equipped to handle full grown bulls. The reasons for this are many, including the fact that bulls are dangerous to have around and it gives us access to a larger gene pool to improve our cows’ physical traits. (ie feet & legs, udder attachments…)

      Yes, cows spend a good deal of their lives pregnant. We will breed back a cow about 80 days after she has calved. Usually they have gone through at least one heat during that time so keep in mind that if there were a bull in the herd, they could wind up getting themselves pregnant sooner than the 80 day wait time, with detrimental health implications.

      We usually leave the calf with the cow in the maternity pen to give the cow a chance to clean the calf off and for the calf to have it’s first feeding of colostrum from the cow. Eventually they are separated, with the calf going into a clean calf pen and the cow going into the milking herd after a few days time to make sure that she has passed her placenta & is eating properly. The heifer calves are raised to become milking cows & the bulls are sold to be raised for beef.

      Dairy cows have always produced large quantities of milk, which is why humans first started raising them domestically in the first place. We realized 1000’s of years ago that the cow had the capacity to produce enough milk to support her calf with enough left over for people as well.

      We usually have a few cows in our herd that are close to 10 years old or even a bit older. By the time they are that old their years are usually showing. I would not like to see what a 25 year old cow looks like.

      I have not heard of anyone giving a cow Estrogen for any reason. If a hormone is needed for a medical reason and is prescribed by a vet then we are required to comply with the both the milk & meat withdrawl times before we are allowed to ship them again.

      Labeling all dairy farmers as animal abusers is like labeling all parents as child abusers just because there are a few bad eggs. On our farm over the course of a month we have veterinarians, AI technicians, hoof trimmers, & other industry & animal professionals who see & work with our animals on a regular basis. We take pride in providing the best possible care for them with the knowledge that the cow will return the favour by providing us with her milk for us to make a living.

      Recent events have been a reminder to all of us in the industry that it a privilege to work with the animals and that we should treat it as such. I don’t understand the reasoning that I hear from people that they love cows, so they don’t eat dairy. ??? If nobody ate dairy the cows would cease to exist. Their reason for being is to produce milk. If nobody drinks it, the cows really have no reason to be here.

  5. So glad that Macleans has reported on this outrage. The more it is revealed to the public, the more it will increase awareness and hopefully result in people coming to their own personal conclusion to eat no living beings.

  6. Humans are a sick species.

  7. Shocking to say the least. but can’t expect much more from this “milking machine” industry that thrives only on return on cash invested.

    thanks for exposing this

  8. In the broader perspective of humane animal stewardship, the abuse of domestic livestock in rodeos must also come under public scrutiny and venues/participants/sponsors be made accountable under the Canadian Criminal Code s445.1.

    How unconscionable that people today pay to attend these irrelevant outdated freakshows to watch and cheer horses being tripped or flankstrapped to buck and farm animals ridden, wrestled or violently roped in timed events for cash prizes- public bystander bullies and animal cruelty promoted and broadcast on CBC. Rodeo was banned in Britain in 1934 (Hansard 1934 Rodeo) for the sadistic use of animals as props in traveling roadshows and rodeo is increasingly banned through legislation worldwide. Same atrocities, a steer wrestled to death at the 2013 Calgary Stampede’s rodeo and the abuse documented at dairy and poultry farms.

  9. Thank you very much for writing such an excellent piece on such an important topic!
    I will share this story widely so as to help educate my friends and family about Mercy For Animals investigators and investigations.

    I think it should be said that while the animals are the definitely the main and obvious victims, the workers should also be seen as victims. The treatment and working conditions for workers on factory farms is just another side to the pain and horror factory farming causes. Maybe some of the people committing these heinous acts of violence against defenseless animals were already predisposed to violence, which is a worrying thought in light of the the links between animal abuse and violence towards other humans, but as detailed in Gail Eisnitz book ‘Slaughterhouse’, often workers go in as normal people and the trauma of there job and conformity to already established norms of conduct lead them to commit violence they never would have before.
    We need to look at this as more than just an issue of hurting animals, (though that is incredibly important) we need to see the damage this system of farming causes on so many different fronts, the well being of the workers, the horrendous degradation of the environment, the risk to public health both from food born illness and chronic disease, and of course the treatment of animals.