03/07/2016 03:41 EST | Updated 03/08/2017 05:12 EST

Chilliwack Cattle Sales: A Double Standard In Court And On Our Plates

Winslow Productions via Getty Images
USA, New York State, Cows in barn

Nearly two years after Mercy for Animals (MFA) went public with an undercover investigation into Canada's largest dairy farm, charges have finally been laid against the company, Chilliwack Cattle Sales, located in British Columbia. Seven of its employees are set to appear in court in April.

MFA's footage shocked the entire country. The video shows farm workers violently hitting cows and using chains and tractors to lift sick animals by the neck. Injured cows with open wounds were shown to be left without veterinary care. Wounded cows suffering from open wounds we left without veterinary care.

One may wonder why the abuse exposed at Chilliwack cattle farm is any less severe, barbaric or cruel than similar acts involving pets.

Before rejoicing that justice will finally be done, let's carefully examine the case. Despite the voluntary and brutal nature of the alleged acts, charges were laid under the British Columbia Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act -- not under the Criminal Code. Why does this matter? Criminal charges are much more serious because they carry the risk of a criminal record and up to five years in prison. In contrast, offenders under the provincial act only face a $75,000 fine and a maximum of two years imprisonment.

This is no minor administrative detail. If the victims had been cats or dogs, there is no doubt that criminal charges would have been laid. Last month, an Ontario man was sentenced to two years in prison under the Criminal Code for tying up a dog with electrical tape. In 2014, another man was sentenced to imprisonment for beating his dog, Breezy; an act the judge ruled to be "deplorable, barbaric and cruel." One may wonder why the abuse exposed at Chilliwack cattle farm is any less severe, barbaric or cruel than similar acts involving pets. What would it take for cows, pigs and hens raised on industrial farms to be protected by the Criminal Code?

Beyond this double standard that farm animals are the victims of, the problem remains that the abusive practices that lead to prosecution are not even necessarily the worst. Common industrial agriculture practices, despite their inherent cruelty, are perfectly legal. We don't need an undercover investigation to know that a large number of dairy cows spend their life chained, suffer from being separated from their calves shortly after birth, endure inflamed udders and bleeding hoofs, and inevitably end up at the slaughterhouse.

In our society focused on productivity and profit, cows are treated as milk making machines for their entire, shortened lives. Yet there is widespread consent amongst experts that cows are as intelligent and sensitive as cats and dogs. In other words, the problem is not only the extreme abuse exposed every time an undercover investigation is conducted, but also generally accepted industry practices. The thought of our pets going through what is merely normal for farm animals is the stuff of nightmares, yet we accept it as normal for cows, pigs and chickens. It is not only in court, but also on our plates, that we must challenge this unjustifiable double standard.

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