CFIA must rethink its new livestock transport rules

It’s often said that if both sides don’t like changes to something, then it must be right. But that is not necessarily the case for updated transport regulations.

The balance between outcomes and prescriptive rules for animals that was sought by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not necessarily the way to go. We have to wonder why outcomes shouldn’t be the determinant, and work back from there to establish the best procedures?

The method of determining the regulations has allowed for public pressure generated by animal rights groups, which can undermine science-based decisions.

The new rules, which come into effect in February 2020, govern the movement of cattle, horses, goats and chickens.

There is no saying the CFIA hasn’t given it a good look. The agency consulted more than 400 scientific articles, reviewed Canadian and international practices, sought advice from scientific experts, the livestock industry, consumers, and animal welfare groups, and looked at more than 51,000 comments offered during public consultation.

It’s the decision making that arose out of all that research that may not be quite right.

While the regulations cover many areas, the rules governing the length of trips animals can be transported before they have to be unloaded for rest periods are dominating the debate. The time period for which some animals can go without food, water and rest has been reduced. Confinement time for some ruminants has been reduced from 48 hours to 36. And the rest time has been increased to eight hours from five.

It’s known that travel is stressful on animals. But there are many aspects of travel that generate stress: restraint, handling, unfamiliar environment, hunger, thirst, fatigue, injury, thermal extremes, long journeys, poor driving, the condition of the animal at loading and human sensitivity while loading and unloading.

The compendium of these issues will determine whether animals arrive in good health, so making changes to travel times may not be a solution, particularly since we know offloading significantly increases stress on animals.

As well, Agriculture Canada researcher Karen Swartzkopf-Genswein has previously said poor cow condition at loading is the “biggest risk factor in determining condition at offloading. … Even the best transporters and conditions cannot compensate for poor loading decisions.”

So, it’s not necessarily the case that reduced travel times will be effective. Cattle groups say offloading animals may actually increase total stress levels.

There is currently research underway to study the effects of travel on animals in Canada, partially funded by the federal government.

It’s also important that changes in time allowed for transport may mean fewer cattle will be transported to Eastern Canada, leaving fewer choices for consumers in Ontario and Quebec, and farmers in the West with fewer options to sell their cattle, resulting in lower prices.

It’s understandable that the CFIA wanted to update 44-year-old rules, but 99.95 percent of animals on long travels currently reach their destination in good condition, so would it not have been wise to update regulations for poultry first, where most of the problem lies, and wait until current research on animal travel is completed in 2021?

Livestock and poultry carriers have work to do to be able to meet the regulations by next February, but we hope the CFIA is open to rethinking some of these rules once the research into animal travel time is complete.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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