The (animal) costs of transport

| September 30, 2013 | 0 Comments
Turkeys from a Manitoba turkey farm in an overloaded, untarped truck enroute to a slaughterhouse.

Turkeys from a Manitoba turkey farm in an overloaded, untarped truck enroute to a slaughterhouse.

At some point in their lives, virtually all farmed animals are transported. The duration and conditions of transport have a major impact on animal well-being and are especially hard on certain species. Pigs are prone to motion sickness and heatstroke, in part because they don’t sweat. Chickens, meanwhile, are stacked on trucks in such a way that they often either die from exposure on the outside or, especially if the truck is tarped, from suffocation inside.
Many animals become sick or injured, and about three million in Canada are dead on arrival (DOA) at slaughter plants each year and are used for everything from asphalt to cosmetics. Too often, these deaths are considered the cost of doing business. It is a high cost, both from a welfare and monetary standpoint.
According to the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan, in 2008 alone, the economic loss resulting from DOA broiler chickens amounted to $7,151,028. In a rare, recent court case involving high numbers of DOAs at chicken processor Maple Lodge Farms, Gord Doonan, a senior veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has questioned whether it’s possible to transport chickens humanely at all.

Pigs crowded together during transport.

Pigs crowded together during transport.

Canada’s 33-year-old transport regulations are acknowledged to be among the worst in the developed world. Cattle, sheep and goats can be shipped for 52 hours without water, food or rest, in addition to a five-hour food-withdrawal period before travel.  For horses, pigs and poultry, the maximum is 36 hours. The unreasonable time frame may be to facilitate transport of cattle non-stop from west to east for slaughter. Moreover, the clock is set back to zero when a transporter crosses the border.
This compares with the 28-hour law in the U.S. — after 28 hours, transporters are required to stop and allow animals to rest — while in the EU, there are specific regulations for short and longer journeys, and requirements for basic amenities in trucks that most North American vehicles lack. These regulations were implemented in January 2007.
For a shorter journey of a maximum eight hours, EU trucks must allow for grouping or separating of animals (stalls are mandatory for horses); protection from the weather; and access to animals in transit (a significant compliance issue, as some vehicles still don’t provide it). For longer journeys  — transport of cattle, sheep or goats for 29 hours, pigs and horses for 24 hours, and nursing animals for 19 hours — a truck must have, among other things, automatic ventilation and water systems, bedding, GPS and temperature alarms.
In 2011, the European Commission released a report that looked at the impact of these requirements. Overall, transport costs have risen 2.9 percent for horses — the highest increase, due to the mandate for stalls — and 0.6 to 0.8 percent for other species. These average out to 11,900 euro per vehicle, or about $16,320 Cdn. The report noted that while trade in live animals has increased since the regulations came into effect, prices have not, a fact attributed to unfair competition resulting from some transporters complying with regulations while others don’t.
At the same time, the report surveyed various agriculture stakeholders regarding improvements in animal welfare and body condition as a result of the new rules; while responses were negative among some groups — i.e. no improvements at all — farmers as a whole noted considerable increased benefits in terms of fewer DOAs.
The costs associated with transporting live animals — often for days and sometimes weeks at a time — are huge. Not only do they suffer on the journey; they also enter countries where they have little to no protection. For example, Canada is exporting to Kazakhstan live cattle for breeding. Horses may be next.
In Canada, the majority of live animal trade is with the U.S. Live cattle, for example, are among Canada’s top agri-food exports to the U.S., along with pigs. Worldwide, in 2011, we exported $24.9 million worth of breeding cattle, amidst total agriculture/agri-food exports valued at $40 billion.
Live animal exports play a similarly significant role in the EU’s agriculture sector. In the U.K. alone, the total value of live animal exports in 2011 amounted to more than £400 million ($658 million Cdn). However, the EU’s live animal trade is coming under increasing public scrutiny because it often involves longer and more gruelling journeys to the Middle East and North Africa. Ireland, for instance, recently reopened its live export trade to Libya after being banned from trade in 1996 due to the threat of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis, or mad cow disease).
At the same time, the EU’s “8 hours campaign” seeks to limit the transport of all live animals intended for slaughter to eight hours. It has the support of 126 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from 19 countries and all political groups.
While such efforts may be seen by some as hypocritical, they do help shine a light, not only on the transport of animals, but also the larger issue of an industry that often relies on inherently inhumane practices as a matter of routine operation.
In the case of Canada’s Maple Lodge Farms, for example, the company has argued it has no choice but to transport chickens in all weather to fulfil customer contracts and keep slaughter lines at capacity. If the birds stay in the barns longer than 33 days, they grow too large for fast food companies’ specifications. As well, the fact that food is withdrawn from the birds several hours before they are shipped makes it difficult to change schedules last-minute; the processor is expecting the current flock, while a new flock of day-old chicks awaits delivery.
In short, it’s a just-in-time manufacturing system that depends on animals to pay the price of efficiency.

Be Sociable, Share!


Category: Dispatches

About the Author ()

Edana Brown is a director of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.  Free

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *