Are Canada’s Meat Transport Practices Substandard?

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TORONTO — In the past five years, mad cow disease and listeriosis outbreaks in Canada have led to the deaths of Canadian citizens. Each crisis was a severe blow to the country’s meat industry, causing untold damage from lost lives, lost revenues and an overall waning confidence in Canadian meat.

The unfortunate events put pressure on the federal government and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), as many critics came out against what they viewed as substandard health practices within the meat industry.

That criticism has once again come to light in a high-profile story in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, which detailed the contents of a new study by the World Society for the Protection of Animals — due to be released sometime this week — that investigated transportation conditions of animals destined for processing plants in Canada.

The study is based on CFIA inspection reports for the period between Oct. 9, 2008 and Jan. 9, 2009, when the agency launched an investigation of the meat industry in reaction to the 2008 listeriosis outbreak that killed 22. In its report, the World Society for the Protection of Animals found that Canadian standards for transporting meat were significantly lower than those in the U.S. and Europe, with a slew of evidence suggesting that food-borne illnesses are too easily transported across the country in trucks and trains — thanks to the animals packed inside.

“Under CFIA policy, an inspection is warranted if one per cent of a shipment of broiler chickens arrives dead, whereas the U.S. threshold is 0.5 per cent,” writes Gloria Galloway, in the Globe report. She also notes that the report found CFIA standards were not strenuously enforced and that two to three million animals die during transport every year while another 11 million arrive at their destination diseased or injured.

Clearly, there are challenges in transporting meat in Canada, which is a vast nation with an often harsh climate. The report states that cows in Canada can be transported for up to 52 hours without food, water and a rest break. In Europe, the standard is 12 hours.

According to Paul Meyers, the associate vice-president of programs at the CFIA, “the agency is preparing to rewrite the rules on animal transport.”

Below are the report’s key findings, as printed in yesterday’s Globe:

1. Unacceptable numbers of animals, particularly chickens, die during transport.

This most often happens when the birds are moved over long distances and in inclement weather.

2 to 3 million: The number of animals that arrive dead every year at Canadian slaughterhouses.

2. Animals are transported in overcrowded conditions.

Transporters pack between seven and 16 chickens into crates that are a half-metre square, and cows have arrived at processing plants with sores on their backs from brushing against the roof of the truck.

6 to 89 per cent: The increase in number of animals covered with salmonella after being kept in crowded conditions for 40 minutes, according to a Texas Tech University study.

3. Severely injured and sick animals are transported in contravention of federal regulations.

Animals are arriving at slaughterhouses and auctions emaciated, weak, crippled and with severe injuries.

2: The number of sheep a farmer brought to be slaughtered at Princeton Meat Packers in Woodstock, Ont., that had injuries so severe, they should never have been transported.

4. Severely compromised animals are transported and left to suffer for prolonged periods, sometimes days.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals says many incidents may be in violation of federal or provincial animal cruelty laws.

58: The length of time, in hours, one crippled cow was left alive on top of a pile of dead animals in Lethbridge, Alta.

5. A shortage of trained animal welfare inspectors, particularly veterinarians, puts animal health and welfare at risk.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors are not authorized to euthanize animals or relieve their suffering for humane reasons, and few animal inspectors are veterinarians or trained to address animal welfare problems during transport.

329: The number of animal inspectors employed by the CFIA across Canada to supervise 772 facilities that slaughter 700-million animals annually. There are also 980 meat inspectors.

6. CFIA’s reporting and enforcement are often weak and inconsistent.

Animals are transported in clear violation of regulations (for example, goats transported in feed bags, rabbits transported in the trunk of a car, animals tied up and under covers without air holes) and inspectors respond by giving warnings or educational pamphlets.

$221,800: The total amount of individual fines, ranging from $500 to $2,000, levied in 2006 across the country for violations of the health of animal regulations.

7. Animals suffer as a result of poor driver training.

Drivers appear to be unaware of regulations, including their right, indeed, their responsibility, to refuse to transport an injured animal. Some drivers didn’st even know how many animals they had aboard their truck.

20 hours: In one case, the number of hours a severely injured horse spent in transit.

 

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