Protect livestock loads from ‘undue suffering’

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The need to care for cargo takes on a special meaning when transporting livestock, especially when it comes to avoiding undue suffering.

Many of the related obligations were established through a March 2017 federal court case between Maple Lodge Farms and the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). And another case in October 2018 — between the CFIA and A. S. L’Heureux Inc. — expanded on these principles.

While each case was unique, they both serve as cautionary tales for those who haul livestock.

The Maple Lodge Farms case was linked to a January morning when spent hens were rounded up and left in the extreme cold for four hours before being loaded onto an unheated trailer with mechanical problems. Since the trailer used passive ventilation, the birds were then exposed to cold temperatures for a 12-hour journey.

To compound matters, when the truck arrived at its destination, the facility was undergoing a mandatory sanitation process. The hens couldn’t be slaughtered right away. This meant another 12 hours in an unheated barn. Once that time had passed, 12% of the hens were already dead.

Maple Lodge Farms was held responsible for prolonging the undue suffering of the hens during loading and transportation, contrary to Health of Animals Regulations. And since this was an absolute liability offence, the agency didn’t need to prove intent. The shipper wasn’t allowed to use “due diligence” as a defence, either.

The court concluded that the spent hens should never have been subjected to the unheated trailer after being rounded up in the cold. Even though the court said the undue suffering was ultimately caused by others, it still held the consignee liable for prolonging the suffering that could have been avoided through proper procedures to deal with hens that had suffered from undue weather exposure or during transportation.

S. L’Heureux Inc.

The October case involving A. S. L’Heureux involved a weak pig that was transported without any special arrangements to ensure it didn’t suffer.

The company argued the pig was injured despite proper precautions taken by its employees. And while due diligence can’t be used as a defence, the court still considered the steps that were taken to avoid the undue suffering when determining if there was any negligence or an intent to cause harm.

This influenced the severity of the offence and the associated penalty.

Tips for carriers

Because of the way regulations are worded, anyone who transports or causes an animal to be transported — including the carrier – can be held liable for the way transported animals are treated. It means carriers should:

  • Take extra precautions if the animal has any particular vulnerabilities. Establish a plan to address any of these vulnerabilities, and since no due diligence defence is available, ensure the plan is implemented.
  • When picking up the load, ask the shipper for a report on the conditions that livestock have faced for the past few hours. Consider whether there are any risks of undue suffering. Remember, you don’t want to be found to prolong or aggravate any suffering.
  • Ensure that any containment systems are properly constructed and maintained, include adequate ventilation, and have secure fittings. Also look to see that bolt heads, angles or other projections are properly padded, fenced off or obstructed.
  • Ensure the containment system is strewn with sand or fitted with safe and secure footholds for the livestock, and litter the space with straw, wood shavings, or other bedding material.

  • Give employees clear and appropriate instructions, and implement specialized training programs. And use a series of graduated sanctions or benefits to encourage employees to comply with any directives.
  • Record the condition of livestock when receiving the load, during transportation, and when completing a delivery.
  • Ensure contracts require shippers to notify you about any concerns with the state of the livestock when picking up the load, or to identify any extra precautions that may be needed. If the shipper fails to do this, the contract’s language should indemnify you of charges under the regulations.
  • Include a provision in your contracts to deny liability for any undue suffering caused through a consignee’s acts or omissions in holding areas.

It’s often the final journey such cargo will take. Carriers have a responsibility to ensure there is no undue hardship along the way.

– Jaclyne Reive can be followed on Twitter through @jaclyne_reive, or her blog at This column is intended for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.


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Jaclyne Reive is a lawyer in Miller Thomson’s Transportation & Logistics Group. She can be reached at This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute a solicitor-client relationship or legal advice.

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