If you missed CTV’s W5 episode on the horrors of veal production in Canada (“Cruel Business”), here are a few notes to sum it up.
Much of the segment is based on Mercy for Animals’ undercover footage at a milk-fed veal barn complex in Pont Rouge (just outside Quebec City), where calves never see daylight or roam grassy fields. They live in tiny, filthy cages for their unnatural lifespan, five months. During this time they’re fed nothing but milk byproducts. The only time they leave their 19-inch-wide (49cm) stalls is the day they’re taken for slaughter.
Examples of the “flagrant and repeated” abuse witnessed by a Mercy for Animals volunteer who spent two months undercover at the Pont Rouge veal farm: kicking, pushing, screaming, the grabbing of calves’ testicles as a way to force them into stalls.
“If you hurt him right away, he doesn’t try to get out, he stops right there,” – recorded audio from a veal farm employee to another, who is seen shoving something up a calf’s rear end.
Scenes from undercover footage showing farm workers violently shoving baby cows’ facdes into bowls of milk, forcing them to drink.
During the undercover farm worker’s stint at Pont Rouge, he estimated a sick calf died every day on the farm. The bodies were left to rot in a nearby storage room or outside behind the farm. W5 journalist Victor Malarek and his camera crew arrived to the Pont Rouge farm to discover five dead calves lying out back.
Quebec is the largest producer of milk-fed veal. In 2013, 165 farms in the province raised almost 150,000 calves.
The code for handling veal calves hasn’t been updated since 1998. Its main focus is on human safety and making sure “the product” is clean.
Though the code recommends calves be given eight hours of light each day, this is not adhered to. Baby cows are kept in the dark (light in the barns are turned off) because this restricts their movement and causes their meat to become more tender.
The prehistoric code on the handling of veal calves basically says “anything goes”. It’s a “free pass” and farmers can do whatever they want.
As calves grow, they are not transferred to larger crates (their crates are 49cm, 19 inches wide). Life in a small cage means they don’t get to roam, nurse or play. Undercover video shows calves searching for contact by reaching their noses towards one another.
In one room at the Pont Rouge farm, 60 calves are chained by the neck to their stalls. Sometimes they get stuck and almost hang themselves. In the segment, an inspector is interviewed about this. He said he doesn’t like to see this, but nothing is being done to stop it.
Sick or injured baby cows don’t get treatment. Sometimes they lie dying in their narrow for up to a month. The code says they can be “euthanized” with firearms, but guidelines for this process (which includes tying the calf up firmly so he can’t move) are not followed. Undercover video shows a farm worker approach a sick calf, point his gun barrel through the tiny cage and shoot. He misses and leaves the animal wriggling in pain. He shoots again and still doesn’t kill it. At this point he walks away.
Today, the milk-fed veal industry in America is one tenth the size it was in the 70’s thanks to horrific undercover images of abused calves being publicized.
Over the past thirty years, veal production in Canada has remained constant. There is mounting pressure on Canadian milk-fed veal farms to transfer calves from the tiny cages to larger pens.
Fabien Fontaine, a key member of the Quebec Veal Association and the owner of Delimax Veal says he runs a “model farm” — “it’s the way veal should be produced,” he says. At his farm, calves live in small group pens so they can interact. Conditions are different: there’s more natural light and water is available at all times.
One hundred and twenty Canadian veal operations use crates today. 75% of them are in Quebec.
When the code is updated (by the industry itself), it still won’t be binding, it will be voluntary.
Mercy for Animals on improvements to the code: “The industry can say what they want, but behind closed doors, horrible things are happening.”
Farm Specialist Jeff Erten (sp?) of the Vancouver SPCA: “There’s no industry-wide monitoring or inspection, so how is anyone to know what goes on behind closed doors?”
In response to the allegations, the Pont Rouge farm says they expect humane care regardless of how animals are housed on the farm and that they’ve taken steps to switch to group pens by 2018.