‘Destined to fail’

OTTAWA — Disappointment and frustration over Canada’s new livestock transportation regulations came out loud and clear at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting.

“It has created a regulation that industry can’t even begin to meet. I think it is destined to fail,” said Reg Schellenberg, co-chair of the CCA animal health committee. The association met in Ottawa from March 20-22.

The new regulations are logistically doable but require some adaptation, said a spokesperson from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“I realize this sector is not happy with these regulations and some of the other industry sectors are not happy. Neither are the animal advocacy groups,” said CFIA veterinarian Penny Greenwood.

Released in February, the regulations have been roundly criticized from all sides.

The agency took into account new knowledge about animal welfare, improved modes of transportation, as well as higher expectations from the public in formulating the update that comes into effect Feb. 20, 2020.

“We have seen a tremendous amount of change in the consumers and also society at large with regard to animal welfare issues,” she said.

“We did our very best and if that is not acceptable to the cattle sector, that is very unfortunate but we are going to have to adapt to this,” she told the committee.

“It currently is the law and we have a year to go forward and get ready for the implementation,” she said.

As well, industry groups had three years notice that changes were coming because the first round of regulations were released for comment in 2016.

Among the major objections are new requirements for more frequent stops so animals can rest and receive feed and water.

The old regulations stated cattle could travel for 48 hours without feed and water. The new requirement has dropped that time to 36 hours. The time starts when the animals are taken off feed and water at the farm until they are unloaded. If an inspector notes that animals are fatigued or dehydrated in a shorter time, the transporter can still be deemed as non-compliant.

Andrea Brocklebank, head of the Beef Cattle Research Council, said considerable investment has gone into animal transportation research and more will be released in 2021. She asked for assurances that amendments are possible based on the latest science.

“It was disappointing knowing that we invested heavily in current work that not only looked at animal transport and the duration across all intervals but also followed up with those animals and looked at the actual outcomes of animal health,” said Brocklebank.

“The changes in rest stops and intervals sound nice for animal activists but actually if you talk with many feed yards those animals don’t go on feed and water immediately and it could result in them being in transit longer,” she said.

Numerous questions from the committee asked why changes were needed when research has shown the livestock sector has a good track record in moving animals safely around the country.

“The vast majority of inspections do find that the transports inspected are 90 some percent compliant. But when we look at the numbers, these small percentages of non-compliance still represent thousands and thousands of animals. Many of them are poultry but not all of them,” Greenwood said.

Producers also said there are not enough facilities to unload livestock.

These are private facilities but new operations could be established in partnerships with Agriculture Canada.

Mingling together cattle from different loads at these rest stops is another concern. Pens are not cleaned out and this impacts biosecurity and health of animals, said Rick Wright of the Livestock Marketing Association, who has moved cattle across the country for 40 years.

“Timely delivery of cattle is extremely important and I think CFIA has failed to understand as a shipper of cattle I am financially responsible and I have a moral obligation to make sure those cattle arrive in the best condition, otherwise I am not going to have that customer and I am not going to get paid,” he said.

Many also raised concerns about potential hazards to livestock when accidents or bad weather make roads impassable. In remote areas, there are no places to stop when unexpected events halt trucks.

The regulations state transporters need emergency plans and should check weather in advance.

“The trucker is responsible for knowing what is going to be happening for the entire journey,” Greenwood said.

The beef producers also argued animal activists groups were given too much credence when formulating the regulations.

“We are professionals and we deal with these animals on a daily basis and we know what is best for them,” said Nathan Phinney of New Brunswick.

Achieving a balance was difficult and most groups have expressed dissatisfaction with the final results, said Greenwood.

“I agree you are the experts,” she said.

“Their interest in keeping their cattle healthy and well and undamaged is important to your bottom line just as it is to your psyche. I appreciate that. The animal advocacy groups, although they were in the mix, we have to listen to them to some degree based on social licence and that does have a political impact. All people who are vegans also have a vote in Canada, which the politicians are concerned about,” she said.

The complete set of amendments can be found here.

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