Wednesday, June 11, 2014

One, two, many Chilliwacks: What happens when the outrage subsides?

The abuse of cows at Chilliwack Cattle Sales in British Columbia in May 2014.

Once again, an undercover investigator has captured some deeply disturbing footage on video. The public's reaction has been one of shock and outrage, which is good. But one wonders whether the most important lessons here have been overlooked.

The town of Chilliwack in British Columbia is the location of the largest dairy farm in Canada, Chilliwack Cattle Sales, home to some 3,500 animals. In the month of May, an activist with Mercy for Animals - who took a job at the dairy plant for the purpose of surreptitiously shooting videos inside of the facility - captured some unbelievably nightmarish scenes inside of the plant.

Lorie Chortyk of B.C.'s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) described the terrible conditions:
This wasn't pushing cows along. These are animals who are trapped being kicked in the face, being viciously beaten by people laughing. There is nothing in this behaviour that would have been part of a normal farm operation. (source)
Not surprisingly, once the video was released, it went viral, and Chilliwack Cattle Sales is now facing a public relations nightmare. Alas, now the blame game has predictably begun.

The Kooyman family, owners of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, claim they were shocked by the video, that it completely caught them off guard, and that they never suspected - or were ever aware - that such abuse was running rampant in the plant. The company works closely with a massive dairy producer in Canada, Saputo, and to quell the rising tide of anger, eight employees involved in the abuse have been fired. There is now some talk of criminal charges of animal abuse being filed against them.

The company hired a P.R. firm to handle the media exposure. Reporters have been given a tour of a clean facility, told that video cameras (CCTV) will be installed, and that the public will have access to the CCTV footage. The company and the BC Dairy Association have assured the public that there is a zero tolerance policy regarding abuse. Mercy for Animals has called for radically improved treatment for the cows, including an end to the beatings and proper care and transportation for animals that are sick, injured or downed.

For their part, the eight fired employees insisted that the Kooyman family knew of these abuses. "I wouldn't say they should be completely shocked," insisted ex-employee Jamie Visser. "They knew about 80 percent of what was going on." (source)

Who knows what the Kooymans knew and when they knew it? What is clear is that these kinds of abuses are rampant on dairy farms across North America. It is important to remember that Mercy For Animals never targeted this particular company. As MFA's Anna Pippus notes: "Every time we've gone undercover at random facilities we've documented animal cruelty that has shocked and horrified the Canadian public. This isn't a coincidence." (source)

It is encouraging to see how extensively this case has been covered by the media, and I have no doubt that the many dairy producers and promoters who have expressed outrage over this footage have been sincere in their concern.

But what happens when the outrage subsides?  Believe me, in a few days, it will (if it hasn't already). Then what? Well, you can bet they'll be more more careful about monitoring employees at Chilliwack Cattle Sales. Meantime, the wonderful folks at MFA will undoubtedly uncover more abuses at other facilities, because this sort of terrible treatment has become par for the course at so many places that produce animal-based products of any kind.

The ultimate tragedy of it all - and the real takeaway here - is that even if the worst abuses are eliminated (and it's hard to say whether this will happen, as this isn't the first time Chilliwack Cattle Sales has come into scrutiny for questionable practices), fundamentally the story will not change for the poor cows.

The same malevolent and deadly system will continue. Human beings will go right on drinking milk or consuming milk-based products for which they have no nutritional need. Mother cows will still be forced to give birth to keep producing milk and their offspring will meet the same grim fate or be turned into veal or beef. And once the cows cannot produce milk anymore, they will be violently disposed of. The milk that cows produce should feed their offspring, and their offspring only. Instead, they're offspring are being carted off and sliced up, ground up, milked or otherwise somehow exploited until death.

If you think about it, it's a violent, insane and profoundly unhealthy way of existing. But that is how we do things, because that is how things have been done for generations. And as long as profits are being made, and jobs are being provided, people accept the insanity. But ask yourself: What does it do to our humanity to avert our eyes, to ignore the suffering of our fellow sentient beings?

Make no mistake: There will be many, many more Chilliwack Cattle Sales. This isn't the first, it won't be the last. In April, Mercy for Animals captured even worse abuse on film at the huge veal-production complex at Pont-Rouge outside of Quebec City. As CTV reported: "Baby calves, just weeks old, are kicked, punched, slapped and yelled at by barn employees. Some are grabbed by the testicles to force them into narrow wooden stalls. Several lie gasping for air on slats stained with urine and feces."

In another month, Chilliwack will be forgotten by most people, just like Pont-Rouge is now largely forgotten. Cows will continue to suffer. Some will be abused - hit, kicked, punched, knocked by metal rods and wooden clubs. Others may die in farm fires, which are all too common these days. Most will probably live their lives without being abused to the same extent as the poor cows at Chilliwack.

BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE: Whether they are abused or not, they'll all meet the same fate. Maybe that's why this kind of abuse is so rampant, so widespread. At some level, these young men - boys, really - know deep down inside what tragic fate all of these poor beings will ultimately meet. Hitting and punching and abusing the cows creates a disconnect. It hardens these workers. It makes them more callous. Though one can never condone such awful behaviour - in fact, one should always condemn it in no uncertain terms - it does represent a form of alienation that seems to be a predictable and, in some sick sort of way, logical outcome of a system that is ultimately based on the wholesale and wanton destruction of life itself.

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