op ed articles

End the rough ride for farm animals

Stephanie Brown and John Youngman
Globe and Mail Update
March 15, 2006

We cringe when we see them. Those big trucks trundling down the highway packed with farm animals. We catch fleeting glimpses of the cargo - an outstretched wing hanging out the side, a nose poking through an open slat. It's the closest most of us come to live farm animals before they are turned into meat.

These mere glimpses shield us from the picture inside - animals crowded together, often thirsty, hungry and exhausted, sometimes so physically compromised they fall in a heap on the truck floor, unable to stand - "downers" in trucking lingo. Others simply die. In 2004, more than two
million farm animals arrived dead at federally inspected slaughterhouses. This does not include animals who arrive dead at markets, feedlots, provincial slaughterhouses and foreign destinations.

This is the grim reality for many of the 665 million animals raised for food each year in Canada, thanks to 30-year-old animal-transport laws in urgent need of reform.

Every farm animal in Canada is likely to be transported at least once in its lifetime, sometimes multiple times from breeder to farm; from farm to market or feedlot; from farm to slaughterhouse. For some, the trip will be mercifully short. For millions more, long-distance transport has become the norm as slaughterhouses and feedlots get bigger and more centralized, and foreign countries indulge their taste for fresh, unprocessed meat.

To its credit, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has signalled it wants to take action on animal-transport laws. Last year, it banned the transport of downer animals - a progressive move that did not sit well with some industry players. The Ontario Farm Animal Council - representing
Ontario's farm animal industries - opposed the reform. The CFIA is now conducting a review of other transport regulations with a view to change, and has invited submissions from the public.

Europe and New Zealand are adopting progressive animal transport regulations that could serve as a useful model for Canadian reforms.

For example, in Europe, cattle and other ruminants must be watered after 14 hours of transport, then unloaded and rested after 29 hours. In Canada, ruminants may be transported 52 hours - more than two days - without water or rest. In Europe, pigs must have constant access to water for trips longer than eight hours, and must be unloaded and fully rested after 24 hours. In Canada, pigs may go 36 hours without water or rest. Truckers need animal-handling certification in Europe but not in Canada.

Even the best laws are worthless if they are not adequately enforced.

Only a few "blitz" highway inspections of transport trucks are carried out every year in Canada. Similarly, the best laws have no use once animals leave Canada and enter other countries, where they are at the mercy of foreign standards.

In a civilized country like Canada, we can do better than treat farm animals like freight. Reforms such as these would help:

Beyond the animal-welfare considerations, farm animal transport is poised to become a serious trade issue. In May, the Paris-based OIE-World Organization for Animal Health, adviser to the World Trade Organization on animal health matters, approved new international standards for farm animal transport and slaughter that affect WTO trading nations, including Canada. Trade barriers loom if Canada cannot demonstrate to its global trading partners that its farm animal welfare standards are humane.

For the sake of the animals and Canada's international trading reputation, Canada must end the rough ride for farm animals.

Stephanie Brown and John Youngman are directors of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.