WSPA report rips animal handling rules, enforcement

Criticizing Canada’s “lax enforcement and ineffective legislation” on livestock transport, an influential animal welfare group is calling for changes in both the legislation and its oversight.

The British-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), which maintains offices in Toronto and other centres worldwide, on Wednesday released a report titled Curb the Cruelty, which it said is based on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) own reports on compliance with federal animal transport regulations.

“Despite regulations prohibiting the transport of ‘unfit’ animals, all manner of animals — cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, chickens and others — are arriving at Canadian livestock markets and slaughterhouses sick and severely injured,” the group said in its report.

“The condition of these animals as described in these reports raises questions as to why these animals were forced to endure transport at all.”

WSPA, in its report, said “unacceptable numbers of animals, particularly chickens, die during transport,” in some cases amounting to “thousands” of chickens per shipment.

“In one case a third (32.7 per cent) of the chickens arrived dead,” WSPA said. “In reviewing the reports, it would seem that this most frequently happens on occasions when the birds are transported over long distances and in cold weather conditions.”

The report also claimed CFIA data showed animals transported in “overcrowded conditions,” citing cases where shippers put up to 16 chickens in a 0.5-square metre crate.

“In our opinion, far too many animals are transported in overcrowded conditions and we are disturbed to find that this requirement is largely ignored or results in only a warning.”

“Severe wounds”

Animals are arriving at slaughterhouses and auctions emaciated, weak, crippled and with severe injuries, contravening federal rules, the group said. “Of particular concern is the number of pigs arriving at Quebec slaughterhouses with severe wounds.”

Reporting at the CFIA level is also “weak and inconsistent,” the group said, citing cases where goats are found transported “in feed bags” or rabbits transported “in the trunk of a car.”

To those, the group alleged, inspectors “are responding by giving warnings or educational pamphlets. In many cases, loads that are clearly in violation of regulations are marked as compliant.”

Drivers, meanwhile, “appear to be unaware of regulations, including their right, indeed their responsibility, to refuse to transport an injured animal,” the group said. “Some drivers didn’t even know how many animals they had onboard their truck.

Truckers and others handling animals should be required to have “comprehensive training on animal welfare, as is the case in the European Union,” the WSPA said.

The group went on to say a “shortage of specially-trained animal welfare inspectors, particularly veterinarians” is also putting Canadian animal health and welfare at risk.

“CFIA inspectors are not authorized to euthanize animals or relieve their suffering for humane reasons, and few animal inspectors are veterinarians or specifically trained to address animal welfare problems during transport,” the group said.

“There is only one CFIA animal inspector for every two million animals that are slaughtered annually — which makes it impossible for the agency to properly enforce its own regulations and raises serious concerns for both the welfare of the animals and the safety of Canada’s food supply.”

“Almost a year”

The CFIA inspection reports, which cover a three-month period, were obtained through a federal Access to Information Act request by WSPA in late 2008, the group said.

“It took almost a year for WSPA to start receiving any of the files requested, and what we finally received was less than satisfactory,” the group said in Wednesday’s report, citing CFIA reports that were “incomplete, illegible (or) written outside of the time frame requested, as well as several duplicates.”

The reports cited by WSPA also don’t include any from British Columbia, Prince Edward Island or the territories, and included “very few” from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. WSPA said it also got no inspection reports from auctions in Manitoba, “despite the fact that they have more auctions than any other province.”

The group said it got “significantly more reports from Ontario and Quebec (but) did not receive records for every inspection location. WSPA has asked whether animal transport inspections are really that infrequent, or if we did not receive all of the reports we requested.”

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