Leaders of the dairy sector in Canada were, for the most part, not surprised to learn last month that Mercy For Animals Canada expanded its series of secretly-filmed videos to include a B.C. dairy farm. The animal rights organization had already forced sectors such as poultry and pork to defend and/or distance themselves and their producer organization members from the practices of the farms on which its undercover agents had shot footage; it seemed only a matter of time before a video would emerge from a dairy and/or beef operation.
It didn’t make it any more pleasant, however, being pushed to the front lines of a media storm.
In Ontario, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) has already begun discussing the next step in their compliance with the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) program. CQM has represented a massive undertaking for the province’s dairy producers over the past few years, as they become acquainted with the requirements of a program that has, so far, concentrated mainly on record-keeping, drug labelling and correct usage, and milk cooling systems.
The next step is going to be all about animal welfare. And that’s not because of the recent Mercy for Animals video. This is, in fact, something that DFO had already been talking about, and trying to figure out the best way to implement.
If it’s anything like the already-existing elements of CQM, it’s going to again require a lot of record-keeping. And it will require a high degree of preparedness for situations that could occur on the farm. Protocols for downed cows will have to be outlined in advance. Records will have to be kept for all injuries.
Possibly, there will be requirements for the type of handling systems or housing arrangements on the farm.
If consumer preferences have anything to do with it, tie-stalls may be phased out. Any existing tie-stall operations will almost certainly be grandfathered, but it’s quite possible that — despite protestations from tie-stall devotees who appreciate the animal welfare benefits of being able to control the herd’s movement — they’ll be banned in any new construction.
Judging from a session about the Canadian swine industry’s transition away from sow stalls at the recent Ontario Pork Congress, however, such changes won’t necessarily be negative. They’ll require innovative solutions, to be sure, but they could also open up opportunities for Canadian businesses to take advantage of new markets for handling equipment and barn building.
And any new requirements certainly won’t be bad for cows.
If an updated CQM program begins to take in some of these factors, the program will need to keep in mind the challenges that will be faced by dairy producers if they’re forced to transition away from certain practices or types of facilities. And it will have to be a sufficient transition period to allow them to do so without incurring undue financial strain.
But Mercy for Animals isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The best defence against their efforts is for farmers to do the best they can on their farms. Their livestock is their livelihood, after all, and it’s in their best interest to treat animals with the utmost care, no matter who happens to be hiding a video camera beneath their coveralls.
Special to The Banner