USDA clarifies 28-hour law for livestock transporters

by James Menzies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new interpretation of an old rule has recently been brought to light, which requires truckers to provide food, water and rest to livestock after 28 hours of travel. Originally, the ’28-hour law’ only applied to rail shipments, but that was largely because the rule was drafted over 100 years ago when the majority of livestock was shipped by rail. Now, more than 95% of livestock is shipped by truck.

Jim Rogers, a spokesman with the US Department of Agriculture, confirmed to Truck News that the 28-hour law applies to trucks, and has since the rule was clarified in 2003. However, there was previously very little in the way of enforcement or publicity regarding the new interpretation of the law.

That changed in September, when animal rights groups sunk their teeth into the issue and declared the clarification a major victory.

“USDA’s decision could substantially reduce suffering for the millions of farm animals trucked long distances each year in the United States,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “Congress declared more than 100 years ago that animals must be given food, water and rest after 28 hours of transport, and we commend USDA for finally applying these basic animal welfare standards to the transport of animals by truck.”

The Humane Society rallied to have the law clarified along with other special interest groups including Compassion Over Killing, Farm Sanctuary and Animals’ Angels. With the 28-hour law now applying to truck shipments, livestock haulers operating in the US will have to offload and provide food and water as well as at least five hours of rest to hogs and cattle, once they’ve been on the road for 28 hours. The rule does not apply to poultry.

Just how many shipments will be affected, and how the law will be enforced, is up for debate.

Rogers told Truck News that the Department of Transportation will be responsible for enforcement – not the USDA.

“It’s fine to have a rule, but when does it come into play, who is going to enforce it and how are they going to measure it? That’s the biggest dilemma,” Susan Church of Alberta Farm Animal Care, told Truck News. “If all the animals arrive in a healthy, safe, humane way, yet they’ve gone for longer than 28 hours, would they still be fined? Are people only going to be charged or fined if the animals are in poor condition?”

Tim O’Byrne, a livestock handling expert based in Nevada, added that animals that are hauled long distances often arrive at their destination in better condition than those that are transported locally.

“On the longer trips they make special concessions,” said O’Byrne. “They give them more bedding, load them lighter, have air ride trailers and they walk off there better than they would a five hour trip.”

He also pointed out that a very small percentage of livestock loads are actually hauled distances greater than 28 hours. For its part, the Humane Society of the United States claims more than 50 million farm animals are shipped more than 28 hours by truck each year.

Dr. Gord Doonan of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said the ruling south of the border will not likely impact Canada’s own regulations. The CFIA is in the process of updating and clarifying its own animal transportation regulations, but Doonan said Canadian authorities always interpreted the US 28-hour rule to apply to trucks.

Another question raised by the new interpretation of the 28-hour rule is what constitutes a suitable offloading area. Rogers said he would expect truckers would offload at feedlots or ranches, but a truckload of pigs is rarely welcomed at such facilities unless its their final destinations due to the fear of disease.

“We’re not frantically rushing to make any changes, we’re not saying it’s a non-issue but it’s not on top of the list right now,” he said. “There’s a pile of livestock being moved, most of them short distances, and it seems to be working.”

However, he added it may be a situation worth monitoring, especially given the fact the animal rights lobby is involved.

“Do the animal rights groups have the power, the time, the resources and the wherewithal to take it and run with it? You’re darned right they do,” he admits.

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