Saturday, July 20, 2024

Allegations of animal abuse at Stirling farm result in investigations, suppliers pulling products

A photo taken by a whistleblower of a water buffalo at The Ontario Water Buffalo Company. – Photo via PETA

Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of animal abuse that may be disturbing to some readers.

All Loblaw grocery stores have pulled products off store shelves with ingredients containing milk from a Stirling-based water buffalo farm, following allegations of animal mistreatment and neglect brought forward by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The Ontario Water Buffalo Company, based out of Stirling – Rawdon, Ontario, has caused a stir in the Canadian dairy industry following allegations of animal mistreatment brought to PETA by a whistleblower. Images and video footage spanning several months allege that animals were subjected to inhumane living conditions, such as overcrowding in feces-filled pens infested with flies, inadequate health and veterinary care, and the breeding and milking of buffaloes that were suffering from injuries.

These allegations, videos, and pictures have led to multiple investigations by governing authorities and suppliers, including the Ontario Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS), the Ministry of the Solicitor General, Quality Cheese Inc., and Loblaw Company Ltd.

Lori Smith and Martin Littkemann, Ontario Water Buffalo Company owners, dispute the allegations of abuse.

Allegations, investigations, controversies, and responses regarding the mistreatment of animals at the Ontario Water Buffalo Company are categorized chronologically below.

PETA’s Investigation

Following reports of alleged neglect and mistreatment of the milk supplier for Bella Casara Buffalo Mozzarella products, PETA investigated the Ontario Water Buffalo Farm in Stirling, Ontario, over a number of months.

A whistleblower provided photos, available here, and video footage, available here, which include disturbing images; viewer discretion is advised.
Allegations made by the whistleblower include calves covered in feces and mud, buffaloes struggling to stand in unkept pens, overgrown horns and hooves and unaddressed injuries. According to PETA, its “investigators took a scheduled tour of the [farm] and found systemic animal suffering amid piles of manure.”

According to PETA, “the whistleblower said that a blind calf who couldn’t stand lingered for two weeks before he died,” and that some calves “suffocated in feces” after being born into filthy pens. Other allegations state that “weaned calves were denied adequate hay or were given mouldy or wet hay … suffered from parasites, and diarrhea was evidently rampant.”

Some of the images provided show buffaloes suffering from uterine prolapses protruding from their bodies. According to PETA, the whistleblower alleges animals were bred and milked while suffering, as well as still healing, from these injuries.

Other allegations and concerns were raised by PETA in its investigation, including that water buffalo are native to tropical and subtropical climates in Southeast Asia, where weather conditions not in alignment with the Stirling, Ontario, farm’s climate.

PETA claims that during one of its investigations on the farm, “one of the owners admitted that some animals had suffered from frostbite, causing them to lose patches of fur.”

Allegations Prompt Provincial Investigations:

PETA submitted evidence of these alleged mistreatments to the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) in April 2023, which led to an initial investigation. PETA claims that the neglect continued beyond this investigation and prompted a second complaint to Provincial Animal Welfare Services in September. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) investigated allegations against Ontario Water Buffalo Company and whether standards and regulations were on par with the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act enforced by the OMAFRA.

On Oct. 23, the Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed to Quinteist that, “There is an ongoing inspection by Animal Welfare Services at the Ontario Water Buffalo Company. Given the inspection, the ministry is unable to provide additional detail.”

Major Supplier Responds to Allegations

On Oct. 20, Loblaw – a major Canadian grocery store chain – confirmed that it receives products through Quality Cheese Inc., which sources milk from the Ontario Water Buffalo Company for Bella Casara Buffalo Mozzarella. As a result, Alaine Brandon, Vice President of Loblaw Companies Ltd., confirmed that Loblaw will no longer be obtaining dairy products derived from the Ontario Water Buffalo Company.

“We take allegations such as these seriously,” Brandon wrote to PETA with its decision following its investigation. “The welfare and ethical treatment of animals raised for food is important to us and our customers.

“Our customers look to us to ensure the food they purchase is responsibly sourced and produced in a humane way, [so] we expect anyone handling animals in our supply chain to treat them in a humane way as required under our Supplier Code of Conduct available here,” Brandon’s letter reads.

Brandon explained that Loblaw Ltd. “immediately” reached out to its supplier, Quality Cheese Inc., which confirmed it “procures milk from the Ontario Water Buffalo Company to produce the Buffalo Mozzarella product.”

Though Quality Cheese Inc. did not respond to an interview request with Quinteist, both Loblaw Inc. and PETA shared, in writing, that Quality Cheese Inc. has stated it will no longer source its milk or dairy products from the Ontario Water Buffalo Company.

According to Loblaw Inc. and Brandon, Quality Cheese Inc. “immediately began their investigation into the matter and have since notified Ontario Water Buffalo Company that they will no longer be procuring water buffalo milk from them.” 

Farm Owners Dispute Allegations

Lori Smith and Martin Littkemann, Ontario Water Buffalo Company owners, refute allegations against their farm.

Lori Smith did not accept multiple offers for an interview with Quinteist, but stated in an email response that, “these are false accusations and we have no response to this.” When asked if the photos and images provided by PETA are of their farm, and their water buffalo, both Smith and Littkemann did not provide a response.

Smith and Littkemann invite people to tour their facility to make their own determinations regarding how animals are treated, and live, on their farm.  

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