op ed articles

Canada’s slow progress on animal transport

Stephanie Brown and Edana Brown
The Hill Times

October 23, 2017

Last December, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency published updates to transport regulations in Canada Gazette I. CFIA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) notes that current regulations are so outdated that:

  • they do not reflect current science on the care and handling of animals;
  • they’re not “clear and science-informed”; and
  • they don’t “align with Canada’s international trading partners and the OIE animal welfare standards.”
  • The RIAS further notes: “this leads to the continuing risk that animals will suffer during transport”.

    TOO MUCH LOBBYING

    More than 771 million land animals were raised for food in Canada in 2016, and virtually all of them were transported. According to CFIA research, transport itself is fatal for more than 1.6 million farm animals each year. While death is the result of several factors, from extreme temperatures to rough handling, the length of the journeys is a huge killer.

    Trips can last 52 hours for cattle, and 36 hours for chickens and pigs. And all without food, water or rest. For animals crossing the border, into the U.S. for example, the clock is set back to zero, and U.S. laws — i.e. a maximum 28 hours — begin.

    CFIA has acknowledged there’s a problem, and its regulatory updates are attempting to fix it.

    However, Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) documents obtained by the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals show that CFIA ignored its own findings and essentially caved to industry lobbying. CFIA’s own regulatory statement called for transport regulations to be science-based. But it now appears they are not.

    Take the case of chickens — in particular spent hens, birds who, after a year in a battery cage, are weakened and featherless, with decreased egg production.

    Animal scientists had recommended that the maximum transport time for spent hens be set at eight hours.

    But CFIA “compromised”, and in an early draft of the regulations, settled on twelve hours.

    Then poultry industry lobbied fiercely. And the time increased to 24 hours. Double what CFIA had drafted. Triple what scientists had recommended.

    NOT ENOUGH ENFORCEMENT

    Regulatory updates are one part of the welfare equation. Another critical part is enforcement. According to ATIP documents, highway enforcement of animal transport trucks has been infrequent, to say the least.

    For the period of January 1, 2015 to June 15, 2016 (about 530 days, or a year and a half), only 58 highway inspections of animal transport vehicles by CFIA took place across Canada. That’s about one inspection every nine days across ten provinces.

    Consider that in the context of one large Canadian slaughter plant, which alone slaughters 450,000 - 500,000 chickens a day. That’s 45 - 50 loaded vehicles arriving at that plant every day, pretty much 365 days a year. Multiply that by ten provinces. And factor in heat waves, blizzards, and the grueling stop-and-go traffic that is a reality in many cities across the country.

    Millions upon millions of these animals are on our roads every day, but they’re flying under our radar. Clearly, far more inspections are needed to ensure these creatures receive the decency and basic care that any animal should have, regardless of whether an animal is a personal companion or raised for food.

    ALL THAT EFFORT, BUT TO WHAT END?

    While CFIA’s regulatory updates are encouraging, after all the time and money that’s gone into updating them, it’s discouraging that they really don’t go far enough — neither for the animals, nor for our trading partners. In the European Union, for instance, chickens can be transported a maximum of eight hours — or 12 hours for trucks with water access, insulation, and mechanical ventilation.

    If history repeats itself, these new regulations may not be adequately enforced — and may be back on the drawing board sooner rather than later.

    Stephanie Brown and Edana Brown are directors of Toronto-based Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, and are not related.