03/03/2016 12:19 EST | Updated 03/04/2017 00:12 EST

BC SPCA calls for independent regulation of dairy farms

The B.C. SPCA is calling on the government to create an independent body to regularly inspect dairy farms across B.C. to ensure acts of animal cruelty — such as those outlined in charges laid in connection with a Chilliwack farm — no longer occur.

Twenty counts of animal cruelty were laid against Chilliwack Cattle Sales, one of Canada's largest dairy farms, and seven of its employees, according to the SPCA.

None of the charges has been proven in court.

The SPCA says the province needs better auditing to prevent farmers and other animal-business owners from abusing animals.

"We also need to make sure that every single farm in the province has someone independent of the farm, to step foot on the farm, to asses the conditions the animals are living in and to make sure that no one is abusing them," said Geoff Urton, an animal welfare specialist with the BC SPCA.

Allegations of cruelty against Chilliwack Cattle Sales first surfaced in June 2014 when the non-profit group Mercy for Animals Canada released a video shot by a former employee of the farm showing dairy cows being whipped and beaten with chains and canes, as well as punched and kicked.

The public outrage that followed the release of the video shows how much people care about the treatment of animals, even those which eventually become food, said Urton.

"I think we will get to the point where the public and consumers are expecting ... a truly independent 3rd party auditing kind of system, that has more independence."

Current regulations

The farm industry currently follows self-regulating measures, set out by the B.C. Milk Marketing Board and B.C. Dairy Association, said Urton.

The farming associations normally audit food safety and hygiene practices on farm properties, but they recently added another criteria: animal welfare.

"Now they're layering animal welfare on top of that now that it has become very apparent that it's a public concern and it's their moral obligation to ensure the animals are being treated well," said Urton.

"That's a huge step forward."