New Zealand’s livestock transport industry could be in for a shake-up as the Ministry for Primary Industries looks into changes to the nearly 30-year-old standard for stock crates.
Crates on stock trucks are built according to a code that was developed in 1993.
MPI’s director of animal health and welfare, Dr Carolyn Guy, said it needs updating.
Meanwhile, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting NZ chief executive Nick Leggett told BusinessDesk the industry agrees with improving animal welfare standards but said there is a balance to be struck.
MPI is proposing to do 12 months of research into the industry’s current crate design. This follows a pilot study in 2020 that looked at factors that could cause back-rub in cattle during transport.
It’s an offence to cart stock in a way that causes back-rub. The condition occurs when the spine or hips of the animals rub on parts of the crate, causing skin lesions.
The livestock transport industry is a critical part of New Zealand’s supply chain. It carts stock between farms, saleyards and meat works.
Guy said the research is to make sure future standards legislate design features that are “fit for purpose”.
MPI figures show that the number of infringements issued for back-rub breaches have declined for the past two years.
In 2020, there were 285 infringements for back-rub breaches, compared with 210 in 2021 and 108 so far this year.
Back-rub infringements made up 37% of all animal-welfare infringements citations in 2020 and 26% of the 421 handed out last year.
Guy attributed that decline to the impact of fines and companies investing in new, higher crates, which have more room on the top deck.
Last year, four companies received more than 10 infringements. So far this year, 10 infringements have been issued to two companies.
In MPI’s Request for Proposal document, it says current crate construction provides no guarantee of compliance with the two animal-welfare codes.
“Consequently, the current design of livestock crates within New Zealand may be contributing to compromised welfare,” it says.
Asked how it provides no guarantee, Guy said 20 years of research highlighted the importance of having enough ventilation in crates, preventing stock suffering from heat stress or smothering.
However, changes to crate design over that time have tended to reduce ventilation.
“In addition, anecdotal reports and a pilot study in 2020 showed that crate design needs to take account of the increasing height of animals now being transported,” Guy said.
Leggett said he worries that efforts to better manage animal welfare have the potential to detract from the government’s efforts in resolving challenges the industry has already raised around livestock operators managing drivers’ safety and wellbeing.
“So, we think there is a balance to strike here.”
He said the economic impact of any change would have to form part of the research because of the level of investment that could be required on the part of transport companies.
“If you’re going to change things, are you going to pull the rug out from under people who’ve invested in infrastructure that has a long life-span?” he asked.
The wider industry will have an open mind about the research, he said, and there will have to be a lot of questions answered as well.
He said he hopes the industry can take the lead on the research.
“We feel that the livestock transport industry has the connections and subject matter expertise to take the lead role in this research and to recommend any changes, should there be any,” Leggett said.