Some 700 million animals, most of them poultry but also cattle, pigs, horses, sheep and goats, are transported in Canada every year, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Small wonder, then, that such movement is visible to everyone who travels the roads. The highways and byways are among the few places where an increasingly urban populace sees and thinks about animal agriculture.
Thus it’s important not only that animals are moved in ways that recognize their health and welfare but also that it is seen to be done.
Last week, the CFIA posted to Canada Gazette its proposed amendments to animal transport rules. The Gazette is the government site for notices and pending regulatory changes.
In its background documentation, the CFIA acknowledges the public perception aspect of livestock transport. One of its objectives for pending changes is to “satisfy Canadian societal expectations regarding the responsible care of farm animals and the humane treatment of animals during transport, including loading and unloading.”
Information provided with the Gazette posting shows considerable study has been done on the livestock transport topic, as befits updates that have been in development for at least a decade.
A thorough review and modernization of the rules, which haven’t been substantially altered since 1977, is welcome and necessary.
Livestock care and welfare has always been important to those who raise animals, but it is also under ever-increasing scrutiny. Attention to animal care is important economically and morally and to protect social licence for food animal production.
However, as we have come to know in the agriculture business, changes do not come without additional costs, first to primary producers and then to other links in the chain.
For example, among the major proposals are shortened livestock transport times and requirements to provide food, water, rest and potential unloading and reloading during longer trips.
Lengthy transport has become necessary, in some cases, because there are fewer growing and finishing operations, spread further apart, and also fewer processing plants.
Even so, CFIA estimates that 98 percent of current shipments are already in compliance with the shorter transport times now being proposed.
For those that aren’t, new regulations indicate the need for more offloading sites, created at someone’s expense, and/or that transport trailers be equipped with food and water for the animals carried, and/or enough space for them to lie down and rest.
That translates to fewer animals per load and related higher costs for shippers. Proposals also indicate increased costs for livestock operations and businesses related to staff training, labour and record keeping.
Protecting animal health and welfare is money well spent. It occurs hand in hand with protection of the agriculture industry’s livelihood.
That is why changes to regulations must be scientifically based on good outcomes for animals rather than on satisfying human perceptions. Therein lies the potential rub.
Input on the proposals will be accepted until Feb. 15. It will be worthwhile for the livestock industry and producers to use that opportunity.
Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.