A Serious Lapse In Judgment

The facts in the case are not in dispute. All that’s open to question is whether the judge assigned to the case will impose a jail sentence instead of a hefty fine.

A Steinbach-area trucker pled guilty to charges under the Health of Animals Act after Emerson border guards in Nov. 2007 discovered 14 badly injured, dying or already dead horses on a trailer that wasn’t designed for transporting horses.

They were part of a shipment of 22 horses being hauled from the U. S. to an Alberta slaughter plant in the wake of that country’s decision to ban horse slaughter.

The rationale behind the U. S. horse slaughter ban and whether it has made the plight of unwanted horses in North America better or worse is a debate for another day.

At issue here is the culture that contributed to this trucker’s way of thinking – that somehow attending to the welfare needs of animals in his care was optional.

According to published reports, the trucker’s explanation was that the horses sustained injuries after he swerved to avoid hitting a vehicle stopped on the side of the highway in Minnesota. “You’re going to put me in jail for killing horses instead of people?” he is quoted as asking the judge.

That doesn’t explain why he was hauling so many horses crowded into the wrong kind of trailer, or why he didn’t stop and do something about the panicked mayhem that undoubtedly occurred as animals lost their footing and were trampled to death. The unfolding disaster was caught at the Canada-U. S. border near Emerson, hundreds of miles from his destination.

We can only presume the driver’s logic was that these animals were going to die anyway. Maybe he didn’t know what to do. He was, after all, just a driver paid to get the trailer attached to his truck to its destination – whether it was carrying live animals or tire wrenches.

No one involved with animal industry can feel good about this incident, which as one might expect, made headlines in the urban press. That it involved horses, which most people associate more with pets and cowboy icons than dinner, doesn’t help. But even though they fall lower on the public radar, the same responsibility applies to hogs, beef or poultry.

Farmers and animal industry are well aware of society’s declining level of tolerance for cruelty or neglect involving animals.

Thankfully, incidents like these are isolated. But they should prompt a thorough review of everyone involved with the handling of animals – whether it is the barn, the auction mart or the trucking industry – to ensure the people doing this work have the right aptitude, qualifications, equipment and training to do their jobs humanely.

As our society has become distanced from the farm, animal husbandry skills can no longer be assumed. The culture of optional welfare has to be purged from the highest levels of management right through to entry level employees – not just because it’s good PR or better for the bottom line, but because it is the right thing to do.

As for this particular truck driver, regardless of whether the judge pondering his fate decides on a jail sentence or a fine, here’s hoping for all of animal industry’s sake that he is guided towards a line of work that doesn’t involve livestock.

In the words of Dr. Temple Grandin, “nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.”

Works Both Ways

Fines imposed on two ranchers who refused to co-operate with federal officials testing for bovine tuberculosis in the area around Riding Mountain National Park underscores producers’ responsibility to help wipe out the disease.

The individuals, one because it was an inconvenience, and the other because he thought the tests made his cattle sick, were convicted for failing to present their cattle to Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials for testing.

Progress in curtailing tuberculosis linked to infected elk living in the national park in that region has been painfully slow. And while a cull of the remaining pool of elk believed to be carrying the infection remains controversial, it is an indication that the end is in sight.

Ranchers in the area have borne the brunt of the cost in this battle. But this scenario stands out in contrast to the unanswered pleas

from farmers on the other side of the province seeking more assistance from federal and provincial authorities monitoring disease in the wildlife population.

Producers attending an information meeting on anaplasmosis in Vita last week told officials they are concerned about the potential for TB in the whitetail deer population because of outbreaks in next door Minnesota.

They were told there is no money or resources for testing. It would seem that if producers must comply with a testing program once an outbreak occurs, that there is an equal obligation on the part of government to be proactive in outbreak prevention. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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