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Livestock haulers on the defensive

CALGARY, Alta. - An animal welfare group is condemning the Canadian livestock and transportation industries and the federal government for what it says are low standards and lax enforcement of regulat...


CALGARY, Alta. –An animal welfare group is condemning the Canadian livestock and transportation industries and the federal government for what it says are low standards and lax enforcement of regulations involving the humane transportation of animals to slaughter.

The organization in question, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), is attacking an industry that appears to know already that it’s on the human side of perfection, but which is working actively to improve the situation, not merely to appease animal groups but because it’s the right thing to do for a variety of reasons.

In the even-handedly-titled report Curb the Cruelty, the group claimed that animals are “arriving at their destinations seriously injured, dead and overcrowded.” The group also claims that the CFIA is “weak and inconsistent in how they report the problems and enforce the rules” and that, when penalties are issued, they seldom result in more than a “paltry fine.”

The WSPA says it pored over CFIA inspector reports for a three-month period to come up with its report, which also claimed that there is only one CFIA animal inspector for every two million animals slaughtered annually -a situation it says “makes it impossible for the agency to properly enforce its own regulations and raises serious concerns for both the welfare of the animals and the safety of Canada’s food supply.”

The organi zat ion says it launched its review after the Listeriosis outbreak in 2008 raised questions about meat safety.

In what could under more whimsical circumstances be called a “WSPA campaign” that includes inviting visitors to its Web site to write their MP about the issue, the group labelled as “Unacceptable” the numbers of animals, especially chickens, that die during transport. The reasons, they say, relate not only to lax and laxly-enforced standards, but also to such factors as a shortage of specially-trained animal welfare inspectors -particularly veterinarians -and poor training of drivers.

To combat the situation, they’re calling for more, better-trained CFIA animal inspectors, economic incentives to encourage better practices, and stronger penalties to “discourage cruelty.”

Perhaps of more relevance to the transportation industry, the group is also hollering for stronger regulations that would include reduced transport times, mandatory maximum loading densities, vehicles that are equipped with heating and cooling systems, and drivers and handlers who are trained specifically in animal welfare and behaviour.

How ubiquitous is the perceived problem?

“What they’re actually reporting on is representative of less than 1% of farm animals that get transported to processing,” says Lorna Baird, executive director of Alberta Farm Animal Care (A FAC), putting the WSPA report in perspective.

WSPA cites CFIA statistics as stating that up to three million animals arrive dead each year, out of a total number of more than 700 million animals they claim are slaughtered in Canada each year. To some, this might also mean the vast majority of livestock transported arrives alive, if perhaps not in the most pristine condition desirable.

Not that 1% is acceptable, Baird says, it’s just that there needs to be some context.

“We acknowledge that even one death is one too many,” she says, noting that “there is a lot of work being done. The livestock industry is always looking for ways to improve and they do that by investing in research and supporting education and training.”

One of the training programs Baird says is supported in Canada currently is the Certified Livestock Transport (CLT) program ( www.livestocktransport.ca). Aimed at livestock truckers, shippers and receivers, it’s billed not only as a comprehensive training course for those involved in transpor ting cattle, hogs, horses, sheep and poultry, but as a support service for them as well.

Baird says the program was developed through AFAC, but has now spread from B.C. to Quebec and will hopefully soon be a truly national program. She says it has buy-in from livestock and poultry commodity groups, processors, provincial and national farm animal care councils, government and other organizations, “so there’s really great uptake of this program and support for the training that’s already on the ground.”

The course consists of an in-class portion where, Baird says, they go through the regulations and requirements and have discussions about proper handling techniques. Students watch videos covering different situations inside the truck -for example, what actually happens back there when they’re transporting animals.

“They also have to be proficient,” Baird says. “If you’re being certified as a transporter, you must have the proper training and licensing to be able to drive -but we take it a step farther to discuss the animal care and handling issues.”

The program has trained more than 1,200 Canadian livestock transporters and handlers so far.

For its part, the Livestock Transporters’ Division of the Ontario Trucking Association released a policy paper that would undoubtedly be near and dear the WSPA’s collective hearts.

In its document Policy Recommendation to Create a Safe, Educated and Accountable Live Animal Transportation Supply Chain, the group called on industry members, customers and government to “work together to create a safe, responsible and accountable system of live animal transport in the province of Ontario.”

The OTA LTD says it recognizes the need for an increased focus on the safe and humane transportation of animals and that its recommendations “seek to ensure that animals are only entrusted to properly certified and trained trucking fleets” by committing to developing jointly with government and other, er, steakholders, a system that ensures that only certified carriers and drivers can transport livestock.

Its recommendations also take into account the realities of the transportation industry, however -saying, for example, that carriers retain control over their own training programs “in an effort to continually incorporate industry input, changes and best practices.” And, recognizing the importance of training programs, it suggests that courses modified through industry input could be made mandatory for drivers.

Another course called for by the OTA LTD is a one-day Entrant Program (EP) on safety and animal knowledge for trucking companies involved in moving livestock in Ontario.

The group sides with the WSPA in calling for strengthened regulation and enforcement as well.

It appears, then, that at least some organizations involved in livestock production and transportation are already at work to ensure that the figure of 1% deaths is a ceiling and not a floor.

It’s a fact perhaps overlooked in the WSPA’s research, according to AFAC’s Baird.

“We’re actually trying to do something about it and improve the situation and we would’ve liked that recognized,” she says, noting that the report unfortunately makes it sound like the industry is lacking in both knowledge and activity, whereas the truth is that quite a bit is being done already.

“Everybody agrees that the important thing is the result at the end,” Baird says, “and that we all want to have healthy animals transported and arriving at their destinations in the best condition possible.”

It appears the CFIA is taking the issue seriously as well. This past June, it reported a Manitoba trucker was sentenced to a 30-day intermittent jail sentence for violating the Health of Animals Act (November, 2007), for an incident that saw 14 horses either die during or be euthanized after a trip to a slaughterhouse.

No system can be perfect, of course, but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t work to make the final hours of our feathered and furry food-bearing friends a bit more dignified and comfortable. This is not only humane, but good business.

“Farmers and ranchers don’t want to see their a
nimals suffer; they work with them 365 days a year and they don’t want things to go poorly because of a transport issue in the last days that the animals are alive,” says Baird. “We are involved in and constantly looking at ways to improve.”

And, of course, the better the condition in which the livestock arrives the better it’ll taste on the tables of the non-vegan community (assuming the person doing the final preparation knows what he or she is doing).

“It’s true,” Baird says. “These things all impact product quality and the public image that affects the industry as a whole. It is definitely one of the drivers.”

———

‘We acknowledge that even one death is too many,’

Lorna Baird, AFAC


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