National Column: Humane treatment is good business

by Thomas Walkom

The life of food animals on the move is not pleasant. On their way to slaughter, they may be transported over great distances in uninsulated and overcrowded trucks. They rarely have room to lie down. In the summer, they suffer from extreme heat. In the winter, they endure frigid cold.

The legal requirements for providing them with food and water are hardly onerous. Pigs under transport need be offered water only once every 36 hours. For cattle, the minimum is 52 hours.

Now, the federal government’s Canadian Food Inspection Agency is looking at tightening these animal transport regulations. It would be nice to think this was motivated by a moral desire to improve animal welfare. But as the CFIA notes in an online draft of its new regulations, the reasons are brutally economic.

Domestic consumers, it writes, are increasingly concerned with the welfare of the animals they eat. More important, foreigners – particularly in the European Union – are reluctant to import meat and poultry from countries that raise, transport or slaughter animals inhumanely. Canada’s failure to match even the minimum of international animal welfare standards “could compromise market access,” the agency says

The CFIA’s proposed regulatory changes are hardly revolutionary. Pigs, for instance, would have to be offered water every 28 hours, down from 36. For cattle being shipped, the watering minimum would drop from 52 to 36 hours.

Under the proposed new regulations, those handling animals under transport would no longer be able to zap them with electric prods on their faces, bellies or genital areas. (They would still be able to zap them elsewhere). Truckers would have to give animals more room – although exactly how much more is not specified.

None of this matches the stiff regulations at play in the EU. There, animals under transport must be given food and water every eight hours. As well, loading densities – the amount of space given each animal in a truck – are explicitly specified.

But it seems the CFIA is trying to do as little as possible. The agency estimates that 98 per cent of Canadian shippers already adhere to practices consistent with the proposed new standards. In its online presentation of the draft regulations, it assures shippers that even those who do have to change their ways will find the costs of compliance minimal.

And it says there are economic benefits. It reckons, for instance, that the new regulations will reduce the number of animals that are crushed or starved to death during transport.

The trucking of food animals has become a cause cÈlËbre since the arrest in 2015 of animal rights activist Anita Krajnc. Her alleged crime was to give water to pigs being trucked to a Burlington slaughterhouse. She is currently on trial for criminal mischief. Krajnc’s arrest focused public attention on the weak regulatory regime that governs the transport of animals. But critics say the proposed new rules don’t go far enough.

In particular, argues Anna Pippus, a Vancouver lawyer working with advocacy group Animal Justice, the new regulations don’t address problems posed by extreme weather. Nor, as she wrote in the Globe and Mail last year, do they deal with the practice of using bolt cutters to cut off the teeth of animals being shipped – a practice designed to prevent them from damaging one another in crowded quarters.

Last week, a federal economic advisory council issued a report arguing that Canada should concentrate more on its agriculture industry.

In particular, the report called on Canada to burnish its image internationally as a source of safe, top-quality food that is raised and processed under the highest standards.

If that strategy is to be adopted, the government would be wise to implement animal trucking regulations that are considerably more stringent than those suggested by the CFIA.

It may be hypocritical for meat eaters to demand that their food be treated humanely before slaughter. But increasingly, it is the way of the world.

Thomas Walkom appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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