Science hijacked in transport regs review

Most Canadians would be shocked to know what’s legal when it comes to the transport of animals in this country. That’s because Canada’s outdated transportation regulations set a dangerously low bar, causing the deaths of more than 1.6 million farm animals each year by freezing, dehydration, heat exhaustion, trampling and disease.

But that’s only part of the story. Thanks to a recent access to information request, we know that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the government body charged with farm animal transportation oversight, is ignoring its own analysis of what is required to improve our outdated transportation regulations. In a regulatory analysis document published by the government in the Canada Gazette, the CFIA proposed amendments to the transportation regulations that would provide “clear, science-based expectations, which in turn would lead to improved animal welfare and a reduced risk of animal suffering during transportation.”

Recently released internal documents show that the CFIA revised its original recommendations for significantly reduced animal transport times, giving greater weight to industry lobbying than to scientific evidence. The CFIA documents show that the agency appears to have prioritized concerns about industry profitability over what science says about the needs of the more than 700 million farm animals being transported on Canadian roads each year.

This kind of undue influence over the regulatory process cannot be accepted. Our elected representatives must ensure that the CFIA maintains the integrity of what was supposed to be a science-driven rather than industry-driven process, and bases its recommendations on the body of scientific evidence that calls for the shortest possible transport times for animals.

Animal welfare experts were heartened when Parliament decided to conduct hearings into the proposed transportation regulations before the House of Commons Agriculture Committee in April. Humane Canada testified before the Committee about the many benefits of cutting down on animal transport times, like reduced environmental impact, better health outcomes for workers and animals, and improved food safety.

Benefits aside, as we wait for the Agriculture Committee’s report, it’s worth revisiting the original basis for reviewing the animal transport regulations. In the government’s own public notice, you will see the following acknowledgment of how dire the situation is:

“The current provisions of the Health of Animals Regulations dealing with the transportation of animals do not reflect current science regarding the care and handling of animals, do not align with the standards of Canada’s international trading partners, and are not aligned with the World Organisation for Animal Health welfare standards for animals transported by land, air and sea. This leads to a continuing risk that animals will suffer during transportation.”

This “continuing risk” has, in fact, been a continuing reality for the more than 1.6 million farm animals that die each year because of weak transport regulations that do not protect them.

The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Opinion Concerning the Welfare of Animals during Transport says that journeys should not exceed 12 hours for horses and 29 hours for cattle. In Canada, current transport times are respectively 36 hours and 52 hours for these animals. In the EU, transport times for most live animals are limited to 8 hours and can only be further extended if food, water and rest are provided.

We need a fundamental shift when it comes to the transportation of farm animals – to think of animals not as freight or a financial investment, but as living, breathing creatures who have the capacity to feel pain and fear. Transportation is the most alien and stressful experience that a farm animal will have in its lifetime. The longer and harder this experience is, the more risk there is of stress-induced illness, injury and death.

These animals deserve more. Just because they are headed to slaughter does not mean we should allow them to suffer while they are still alive. This is why we must protect the integrity of a process that places reasonable limits on industry – ensuring that the regulations that govern the transportation of animals are well-informed, science-driven and not a product of bowing to industry pressure.

Learn more about the realities of farming in Canada here.

Learn more about the current state of animal transportation in Canada here.