Monday, February 26, 2024

‘Vague’ animal transport rules under fire

Neal Wallace
International study criticises NZ, among others, for insufficient regulation.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Rules governing the transporting of livestock in New Zealand are insufficient and too vague to be fit for purpose, an international study has concluded.

Eugenie Duval, Benjamin Lecorps and Martina von Keyserlingk, legal, animal welfare and behavioural biology researchers from the universities of Essex, British Columbia and Bristol, looked at regulations governing farm animal welfare during transportation in NZ, Australia, Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Using recent peer-reviewed literature they aimed to provide what they called a fitness check of rules and regulations for the five jurisdictions, focused on four major risk factors: fitness for transport, journey duration, climatic conditions and space allowance.

“Our findings indicate that most regulations in most jurisdictions are often insufficient or too vague to be deemed fit for purpose,” they wrote in a report published in Royal Society Open Science journal.

“All five jurisdictions fall short in guaranteeing adequate protection to livestock during transport,” the report released by the Science Media Centre notes.

The researchers recommended introducing measures that better reflect an animal’s perspective. 

Animal welfare concerns are forcing change, such as foie gras being banned in some countries, and the time sows spend in gestation stalls being limited in the EU to the first four weeks after farrowing.

The report says there are concerns about the transporting of live farm animals in Canada, where cattle can be transported for 36 hours without feed, water or rest.

In the EU more than 1.6 billion live animals were transported beyond its borders in 2019, and in Canada over 700 million animals are transported each year.

Assessing fitness for transporting, the researchers noted that NZ has rules preventing lame animals being transported unless cleared by a vet.

Canadian regulations control what are called compromised animals by listing clinical signs, such as acute frostbite or blind in both eyes, with limits in the length of time and where those animals can be transported.

Apart from Canada, overall the researchers found limited regulations on the fitness of animals for transporting.

Similarly the researchers says that rules around journey duration need tightening, with all jurisdictions allowing livestock to be transported for more than eight hours without food, water or rest.

“While the available evidence fails to provide information on how long is too long, there is agreement that deprivation of water, feed and rest during long journeys is detrimental to the welfare of the animals and should thus be reduced as much as possible.”

It notes that NZ allows 12-hour journeys for bobby calves up to 14 days of age but says there are no limits on transport duration for other classes of livestock.

The lack of a definition for adverse weather means rules protecting livestock from exposure during transporting are vague.

“The lack of specific weather thresholds in Australia, Canada, NZ and the USA makes it difficult to implement a requirement to protect animals from severe environmental conditions.”

In Australia, NZ and the US, forced ventilation systems on trucks are recommended but not mandatory.

The lack of space allowances for animals during transport were also noted.

The researchers found limited information regarding deck height, varying results on the benefits of unloading animals during a rest stop and that minimum floor space allowances are almost always based on weight, not body size.

“To that end, the use of allometric equations for cattle, sheep and pigs to estimate the volume of space an animal occupies as a function of its mass may help.”

The EU allows the export of live animals but its regulations must be complied with even outside its borders, even though that is not legally possible.

Great Britain is in the process of banning live exports for slaughter, apart from chickens, while the Australian government has announced its intention to phase outlive sheep exports over a still to be defined timeline.

The report notes the previous government’s live shipment ban, but not the intent of the new coalition government to overturn it.

Some issues raised by researchers, such as regulating trip duration, are not as applicable to NZ given its small size relative the EU, the US, Canada and Australia.

It is hard to argue with the conclusion of an international study that livestock transport regulations in several countries, including New Zealand, are not fit for purpose, an animal welfare expert says.

Nikki Kells, a senior lecturer in animal welfare science at Massey University, said, however, that while the researchers’ comments are fair, they looked only at enforceable regulations, not minimum standards and best practice, which are applicable in NZ.

While these are not enforceable, since 2016 new regulations at the lower level of offending have been introduced to complement minimum standards.

Some issues raised by researchers, such as regulating trip duration, are not as applicable to NZ given its small size relative the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia.

She said mandatory stops raise animal welfare issues by extending a trip’s duration, which will be accentuated if stock have to be unloaded to be fed.

“For some animals not accustomed to interacting with people, being unloaded and loaded again can be hugely stressful.”

The NZ transport industry also has guidelines on stocking density, another issue raised by the study. 

Kells said she would like the government and industry to consider rules on minimum and maximum temperatures and ventilation when stock are transported.

Studies show temperatures inside a crate can exceed an animal’s thermal comfort range.

One issue the study did not address was the suitability of using the same stock crates for carting multiple species.

She understands the reason for having crates that can be used for multiple species but said that can create issues with stocking density and room for animals to sit down. 

*This article has been updated to include additional insights from Massey University senior lecturer in animal welfare science Nikki Kells.

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