Animals will have less time between stops under new federal transportation rules, but the cattle industry says the changes may actually miss the mark on animal welfare.
Both the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Manitoba Beef Producers have accused the federal government of ignoring its own research and argue that the overwhelming majority of cattle arrive from long hauls in good condition.
The beef sector argues that the changes might actually decrease animal welfare.
Why it matters: Anyone shipping livestock will have to be in compliance with new animal health regulations by next year.
Tom Teichroeb, Manitoba Beef Producers president, recently blasted the changes as “asinine.”
“Now you’re challenging what’s working really well and moving the intervals that were previously allowed and not allowing those long-haul trucks to reach that destination,” he said.
The beef industry argues that changes ignore the added stress to animals by repeated loading and unloading at rest stops.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has argued that new regulations should have awaited the results of ongoing research, and hopes to better measure handling stress from loading and unloading under actual commercial conditions and will be collecting data through 2021.
Manitoba’s beef sector says it is also worried about biosecurity, should animals from multiple loads use the same rest stop on the road.
“Now they’re going to be unloaded on foreign ground where you might have other cattle that might have disease or other health concerns that you might now pick up,” Teichroeb said.
Teichroeb expects wet-nosed calves bound for Ontario to present the largest problems for the Manitoba sector. The provincial beef group argues that those animals must get to their destination, and their new feed and watering routine, as quickly as possible to minimize stress.
The beef sector, likewise, is less than impressed by the promise of additional cost as truckers rack up extra hours on the road and the need for additional record-keeping as cattle movements become more complicated.
“We already know that the cattle get there healthy, so that’s not a concern of ours. The concern of ours is that this is a huge interruption, not just in the health component, but also in the commerce component,” Teichroeb said.
Animals will have to be rested, fed and watered more often and for longer under the changed Health of Animals Regulations, published in late February.
The beef and pork industries will see shortened intervals — down from 48 hours to 36 hours for cattle, and a drop from 36 hours to 28 for pigs. Unweaned calves will also spend less time on the road. Shippers must give food, rest and water every 12 hours if a young ruminant can’t be exclusively fed on hay or grain, down from 18.
Broiler chickens, laying hens and rabbits can be on the road for a day before they must be watered, and 28 hours before being given food and rest, compared to old regulations that mandated a stop every 36 hours.
Livestock must then be given at least eight hours before setting foot back in a trailer, up from five hours under old rules.
The CFIA defines “rest” as enough room for animals to lie down without lying on each other, and enough ventilation and, “protection from meteorological or environmental conditions that could lead to suffering, injury or death,” according to the changed regulations.
Animals do not necessarily have to be unloaded at a rest stop, the government has said, but the space within those trailers must have ready food and water and meet the area requirements for rest.
“The overall objective is that animals arrive at their destination safely, and are suitably fed, hydrated and rested,” a government release said.
The federal government argues the changes are a much-needed upgrade to regulations put in place, “at a time when there was little research or information pertaining to the effects or risks of transportation on the well-being of animals.”
The CFIA estimates that about two per cent of transports do not meet with current regulations and that 1.59 million transported animals are reported dead on arrival every year.
“Given the strong public support for preventing the suffering of animals, and the risk to human and animal health, this must be addressed,” a backgrounder published in the February version of the Canada Gazette read.
The CFIA argues that the changes will improve consumer confidence and bolster Canada’s trade status by aligning with international standard, as well as help improve animal welfare.
Likewise, it argues, expanded definitions of “unfit” or “compromised” animals will help clarify transport requirements.
New regulations are expected to make little difference to Manitoba’s pig and chicken producers.
Both industries are largely integrated within the province, and it is unlikely that anyone shipping pigs or chickens in Manitoba will run up against those rest interval limits.
Wayne Hiltz, executive director of the Manitoba Chicken Producers, says the shortened intervals are a “non-issue” for the Manitoba chicken sector, since many producers are within an hour of a processing facility.
“We don’t see some of the extended shipping times that some other provinces might experience because they’re a little more spread out,” he said.
The most far-flung chicken producers may only be on the road for three hours, Hiltz said.
The Manitoba Chicken Producers has thrown its support behind the regulatory review of transport rules.
“Certainly, the health and well-being of our birds is critical to the whole industry, absolutely — all stages of the journey from gate to plate, absolutely,” Hiltz said.
There is equally little concern from the pork industry, with major slaughter and processing facilities such as Hylife Foods in Neepawa and Maple Leaf Foods in Brandon both well within the new transport intervals set out by the CFIA.
“There just isn’t going to be a big impact from that for us,” Mark Fynn, Manitoba Pork Council manager of quality assurance and animal care programs, said. “Where there could have been an impact, I guess, would have been international shipments, but really, all of our markets are within that time frame, so I just don’t see that being an issue for us at all.”
The sector will, however, have to invest in training staff to ensure that loading procedures are in compliance with the new animal welfare standards, he added.
Room to change
The livestock sector may dodge feed, rest and watering intervals in the future if trailers and containers change, according to the CFIA.
New regulations would not apply to trailers that, among other things, are equipped with forced ventilation and dispensing systems to provide feed and water to each animal. For animals in containers, like chickens, those containers would have to be designed so that animals in the containers would have the same benefits as if they were free inside the trailer.
The federal government says it has left that loophole open to promote innovation.
The CFIA has given the livestock sector the next year to prepare for the changes. New regulations will come into effect in February 2020.