FROM THE EDITOR: March 2010
Reducing Transport Stress
By Kristy Nudds
I remember very clearly the impact of a statement professor Ian Duncan
made to my class in animal welfare at the University of Guelph: “Animal
welfare is the most compromised during transport.”
I remember very clearly the impact of a statement professor Ian Duncan made to my class in animal welfare at the University of Guelph: “Animal welfare is the most compromised during transport.”
Until that point, I hadn’t given transport much thought. I thought welfare study was primarily related to the stress animals may be exposed to while being reared and during the act of slaughter itself.
I had no idea that stress for the animal during transport could affect meat quality either. Even when I did learn that, it was with pigs as the model, and studies focused on pale, soft, exudative (PSE) meat, and how stress has a real physiological impact on the muscles of pigs.
I suspect the average consumer doesn’t give this much thought either.
But three animal welfare groups – the Animal Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) – have put transport on their agenda.
They are “championing” a private member’s bill, set forth by Quebec MP Alexandra Mendès, that is seeking to amend existing transport regulations in the Health of Animals Act. Mendès and the welfare groups believe the intervals at which animals being transported typically receive rest, feed and water are far too long. The bill amends section 148 of the regulations by reducing transport times for equines, swine and poultry from 36 hours to 8 hours, and for cattle, sheep, goats and other ruminants from 52 hours to 12 hours.
The groups claim that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been reviewing the regulations for a decade. The CFIA’s difficulty stems, in part, from the lack of research data on animal transport. This leaves the livestock industry vulnerable for attack by welfare groups, with no science-based data with which to defend itself.
A poultry transportation research group at the University of Saskatchewan is changing this – it has been working for several years to understand the temperature effects on birds during transport and to minimize bird stress.
Headed by professor Trever Crowe, the group built a test trailer that can monitor chickens during transport. This trailer helped elevate Saskatchewan from having the highest level of chicken deaths during transport in Canada 12 years ago to having the lowest rate.
During test runs in the trailer, chickens were monitored using internal thermometers that take accurate measurements. Crowe noted that, although chickens are adept at coping with temperature change, when the thermostat drops below –12 C, conditions can be damaging to the animal and affect the quality of the meat.
Ventilation was a key part of the research, as the researchers needed to find ways to evenly distribute heat throughout the trailer. Although the test trailer won’t replace current truck fleets, the data from the project has helped haulers minimize cold spots and ensure that the birds are comfortable and arrive at the plants in good shape.
Research such as this may prove invaluable when transport regulations are challenged by welfare groups. If the industry can continue such research and expand it by studying how to overcome the feed and watering interval issue, we can work with government to have transport regulations that work for us, and not against us.