A commuter who saw and shot video of a bleeding dairy cow aboard a livestock trailer has put a spotlight on the welfare of livestock in transit.
Amber Jionet was driving home from work along Highway 401 near Cambridge, Ont., Aug. 20 when she pulled into a rest stop at about 1:30 a.m. A livestock transport truck bearing a Manitoba licence plate pulled in at about the same time.
“I just decided to go up to the truck and take a look at the cows and just kind of be with them for a few moments. I do that at some of the slaughter houses in the area,” said Jionet.
“I saw two injured cows. One was just lying down. The other one was the one that was bleeding.”
She also noted fresh and dried blood on the side of the trailer, and took photos and video of it, as well as shots through trailer portholes. She posted the video to YouTube and provided the material to the Animal Alliance of Canada.
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That group registered complaints with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Ontario’s agriculture department.
The CFIA confirmed by email that it is investigating the incident.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has received the photos and video footage and has spoken to the complainant,” a department spokesperson confirmed Sept. 7.
“The agency continues to look into this issue. The CFIA recognizes and shares the passion that Canadians have for animals and takes the issue of humane treatment of animals and safe transport very seriously.”
Liz White of the Animal Alliance said a CFIA spokesperson told her that “from what they could see, there was obviously serious concern for this particular cow” and that an investigation was underway.
Jionet belongs to a group called Bearing Witness, which she said began in Toronto and has expanded. It involves people who photograph and document what they see outside livestock slaughter plants and share the information so consumers “know who’s going to slaughter and what’s going to be on their plate.
“I just make a point, if I can have a few moments with the animals that are en route to slaughter, then I do,” said Jionet.
“You know what’s happening but you don’t necessarily want to go and see it … but I think it’s important.”
After she posted the video, Jionet said the truck driver emailed her, expressing concern about the future of his livelihood and suggesting she should have contacted him directly at the time.
However, besides worry about approaching a man at a dark rest stop at night, Jionet said she was there for 90 minutes and did not see the driver of the truck during that time.
“I do have empathy for people in the industry … but if you’re getting in trouble it’s because you’re doing something wrong. Also there’s not a lot of laws that are protecting animal welfare so wherever there is a point to investigate and penalize someone, then you have to take it, because it’s probably so often and it just goes unnoticed.”
White said that is also the point made by the Alliance.
“It’s unclear how long these animals were on board the vehicle but I think it speaks to the fact that there has to be some process by which, when animals are transported, whether they’re going for auction or slaughter, that its done properly. And that was really our pitch to the CFIA.”
Canada’s code of practice for livestock transport was last updated in 2001. The National Farm Animal Care Council has applied to the federal government for funding to update the code and is awaiting a response.
Jackie Wepruk, general manager of the NFACC, said Sept. 9 that there is a high degree of interest in the issue.
“We know there’s increasing scrutiny of humane transport of livestock and poultry but at the same time, I think there s a collective desire to ensure that animals are being humanely transported, from amongst all sectors,” she said.
The federal government is in the process of updating transport rules, Wepruk added, so those changes will be reflected in any code of practice update that occurs.
“We know that updates to the humane transport section of the Health of Animals Act are forthcoming and have been under development for many, many years now. We’re anticipating that the updates are going to go to Gazette 1 in fall.”
The CFIA said last week that it is “continuing discussions” on changes to the act but did not provide a timeline.
White, of the Alliance, said the group encourages the general public to be more aware of livestock transport with the view of monitoring animal welfare.
“I’ve encouraged people to, if they are travelling on various highways and they see a transport truck pull into a rest stop like that, to go and take a look and see what the animals are like and then, if there’s an issue, report it.”