Shorter trips, more rest stops may not benefit animals

Veterinarian says respiratory disease is a major issue when moving cattle, and a rest stop allows more time for bacteria to incubate

Canadian livestock producers say shorter transportation times and rest stops could actually be worse for animals in transit.

The beef, pork and poultry sectors recently took their concerns about proposed new transport regulations to the Commons agriculture committee.

The regulations have not been changed since 1977 and amendments were released earlier this year after about 10 years of consultation.

Matt Bowman, president of Beef Farmers of Ontario and a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association director, told the committee that CCA supports modernized regulations but only if they are based on scientific evidence and use outcome-based guidelines that focus on animals.

“The CCA believes that for a new rule to be meaningful, the supporting research needs to be conducted using commercial cattle, transport trailers and drivers under typical commercial distances and conditions in Canada,” he said.

The proposal sets out a maximum 36 hours on a truck for cattle, down from 48 plus a four-hour grace period.

Bowman said there is “little existing evidence” that changing the number would make a small number of negative outcomes even smaller. The CCA also wants more research on rest stop intervals and durations.

Dr. Kenneth Metzger, a veterinarian from Linwood, Ont., said his clinic provides service for about 10 percent of that province’s hog production and 75 percent of the beef cattle. He said about 100,000 cattle move from Manitoba to Ontario each year and unloading them is unnecessary.

“There is no scientific evidence that shorter transport times would enhance animal welfare,” he told the committee. “In fact, the re-search shows that loading and unloading is the most stressful part of the journey and it’s where most of the injuries occur.”

Reducing the maximum transport time to 36 hours for cattle and 28 hours for pigs would only disrupt the industry, he said.

NDP agriculture critic Ruth Ellen Brosseau asked what infrastructure would be required to unload and reload pigs, given biosecurity concerns.

Canadian Pork Council vice-chair Frank Novak said only one thimbleful of PED virus in an Olympic-sized swimming pool could kill the entire Canadian herd, and producers would not take the risk of unloading and loading in a public area.

“Imagine some sort of NASA biocontainment facility with 800 million different roads so you never had to travel on the same road as the truck before,” Novak said.

Metzger also said there are economic implications.

Each week, about 8,000 weanlings move from Nova Scotia and Manitoba to Ontario. That can’t be done in 28 hours, so that business would disappear and force farmers out, he said.

“When I read the Gazette I be-came worried that the government may be just naïve enough to believe these fantasies and actually implement the changes in the Gazette,” he said, referring to the publication of the regulations.

Conservative agriculture critic David Anderson asked why un-loading and reloading doesn’t work for cattle

Metzger said respiratory disease is the biggest challenge to moving cattle to a new environment, and a rest stop would allow extra time for the bacteria to incubate, he said.

A 12-hour stop would delay the cattle getting to the feedyard for proper care, he said.

“There’s absolutely no question that the groups of cattle that give us the most trouble, from a health perspective, are the ones that have long delays getting to Ontario,” he said. “The best ones come straight through, without a doubt.”

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association animal welfare committee member Michael Cockram, who specializes in animal transport, said the existing regulations need urgent revision.

“The CVMA strongly supports the reduction in the time intervals that animals may be transported without feed, water and rest,” Cockram said.

The committee also heard from animal advocates, including Krista Hiddema, vice-president of Mercy for Animals in Canada, who said that the government is obligated to make sure farmed animals don’t suffer abuse.

“The CFIA admitted that 14 million animals per year may be suffering during transport, with 1.6 million animals arriving at slaughterhouses dead,” she said.

Hiddema said more slaughterhouses would be a better option for all industries, particularly poultry where losses during transport are high. Both she and Cockram said specialized vehicles that offer feed and water, such as those in use in Europe, would also improve animal transport.

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