New regulations will take effect early next year, but groups want to wait until current research results are available
New Canadian livestock transport regulations scheduled to take effect Feb. 20 continue to raise concern among livestock producers and commodity groups.
Last week, delegates at the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association meeting directed their executive to lobby the federal government to delay implementation of the rule changes until the results of current animal transport research are available.
The most contentious portion of the new regulations for cattle producers appears to be the shortened times during which animals can be without food, water and rest before, during and after transport.
Under current regulations, cattle can be transported for periods up to 48 hours. Amended regulations for ruminants allow a maximum of 36 hours without feed, water and rest. Given some of the distances involved in Canadian livestock transport, the new regulations may require animals to be offloaded en route and then reloaded to complete the journey.
Research by Agriculture Canada scientists, notably animal welfare researcher Dr. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein in Lethbridge, seeks to determine whether unloading for feed, water and rest en route is beneficial to the animals.
“It is startling that there is very little research where they actually look at whether there is a benefit or a risk to having a rest stop,” said Dr. Reynold Bergen, science director for the Beef Cattle Research Council.
“There’s simply no research that’s been done about does it benefit the cattle. Assuming they don’t get hurt or sick as a result of this, do they actually benefit? Do they rest when they’re unloaded? Do they drink? Do they eat? Because it’s all unfamiliar stuff. And if they don’t, then there’s a risk that all you are doing is extending the time that they’re off feed, water and rest.
“Nobody has ever looked also at whether there’s a benefit to different durations of rest stops.”
Agriculture Canada research will seek to answer those questions.
“Our original hope was that the results of this would inform the CFIA efforts … but now the regulations have gotten ahead of the science,” said Bergen.
“What we’re really hoping is that there will be an opportunity to bring those new research results into account before they (the CFIA) really start to enforce those regulations.”
Dr. Michelle Groleau of the CFIA said in a June 13 presentation that new research will be reviewed as it becomes available to see if changes are needed to the regulations. However, they will be coming into force as of next February.
Groleau said the new rules are “a culmination of years, if not decades, of consultation and review.”
The process leading up to development of the new regulations included public consultation in which an unprecedented amount of input was received. The CFIA amassed more than 51,500 comments from 11,000 respondents. Rules pertaining to feed, water and rest drew the highest number of comments.
“People feel very passionate about humane transport,” she said in a webinar organized by the Animal Transportation Association.
“After the dust settled, the final amendments … consisted of a balance of a lot of input.”
Groleau said the changes are based on the CFIA’s own inspection data of animals in transport, as well as upon more than 400 research papers.
“We weren’t able to draw consistent conclusions based on the science alone, although certainly the scientific findings were taken into consideration in the final product,” she said.
International standards, societal expectations and industry logistics also had to be taken into account, she added.
Some factions have questioned why implementation of new rules is still months away, given that they’ve been so long in development.
“We have to remember that the processes that the industry are currently applying are based on 40 years under the current health of animals regulations and as such have adapted to that. So we have to give them time to adapt,” she said.
Groleau emphasized that the new rules are outcome-based as opposed to prescriptive, meaning the outcome for the animals in transport is the key measure, rather than the means to achieving the outcome.
Improved animal welfare, customer confidence and a better international reputation for humane handling are among the desired outcomes, she said.
The new livestock transport regulations were also discussed June 6 in Ottawa by the standing committee on agriculture and agri-food.
British Columbia MP Alistair MacGregor noted the beef industry achieves a 99.6 percent success rate in delivering animals to destination in good health and condition. That being the case, he asked CFIA chief veterinarian Jasminder Komal if loading and unloading cattle en route is beneficial.
“We know there’s a study going on, but we looked at all of the studies that are currently present and we wanted to do an update,” Komal said, as reported in Hansard.
“With these, we took all the information and we tried to bring a balance looking at the geographical reality in Canada, looking at other countries, looking at what the OIE suggests to us, and we sort of came into the middle. We understand there is still more research going on, and we’ll continue to look at that.”