Dairy Farmers of Canada welcomes the company’s move to enforce quality controls by setting pain and procedure regulations
Saputo, a Montreal based dairy processor, says it will refuse milk from farms that fail to treat cows humanely.
The new policy is expected to be implemented across Saputo’s operations in Canada, the United States, Australia and Argentina.
In a June 1 news release, the company announced it would not accept milk from farms that dock tails or that fail to administer pain control for dehorning and disbudding of calves.
In addition, the company is giving $1 million to the University of Guelph, Ont., and University of Wisconsin-Madison for research into animal welfare and education programs.
Saputo joins a growing list of companies to announce animal welfare policies.
At the end of May, Walmart released a standard that calls for responsible use of antimicrobials and embraced the five freedoms of animal welfare.
The policy further asks suppliers to work toward eliminating animal abuse where cases are reported and acted upon.
Suppliers to McDonald’s are also asked to find and implement new ways to eliminate painful procedures, change housing systems as well as practise humane euthanasia and slaughter.
Action was already underway within the Canadian dairy industry. The 2009 code of practice requires pain control for disbudding and dehorning. Bleeding control must also be used when dehorning. Tail docking is not allowed unless medically necessary.
Saputo is trying to protect its brand, said one animal welfare researcher at the University of British Columbia.
“These kind of initiatives are a good thing and I think they will be embraced broadly by other farmers because they help protect all of our brand,” said Dan Weary.
There was once a high level of trust in agriculture and people believed they could trust where their food came from.
“People are now, ‘show me the evidence’ and they want to know there are quality control provisions in place,” he said.
Dairy Farmers of Canada already decided to advance animal health and welfare in a 2012 initiative called proAction. The program encourages farmers to adhere to the code of practice to ensure high standards of animal care are followed.
“We are pleased Saputo is joining our efforts. We have been continually working on this to improve animal care on farms,” said David Wiens, vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada.
“It is not just a matter of saying I have the code of practice and I am following all this,” said Wiens, who farms in Manitoba and was part of the team that developed the pro-Active program. It will be rolled out later this year after a pilot worked on 140 farms to assess milk quality, food safety, environmental care, animal well being, livestock traceability and biosecurity.
National in scope, the provinces will administer the program.
Independent auditors will visit each farm in Canada. The animal care assessment includes cow health where auditors look at things like incidence of lameness, hock injuries and overall body condition.
“They may see things we may not see because they come in with a fresh set of eyes and I think that is very constructive for continuing the animal care improvements we are making,” said Wiens.
Farmers will receive a score and can work to make improvements. There will be follow up and those failing to meet requirements could face the ultimate penalty where milk is not picked up for processors.
Cow comfort has become increasingly important in recent years. Improvements may be required in barns with different bedding or flooring.
This initiative had input from the national farm animal care council, veterinarians, humane societies and companies like Tim Horton’s.
Some provinces have gone beyond that. When a case of animal abuse at a Chilliwack dairy last year received international attention, the British Columbia Milk Marketing board made the code of practice for the care and handling of dairy cattle a mandatory requirement rather than voluntary guideline.