The World Society for the Protection of Animals, headquartered in Toronto, has taken the Canadian government to task over the welfare of animals being shipped to slaughter houses or across the border.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) studied three months worth of records from Canada's Food Inspection Agency, saying "The reports show that animals are arriving at their destinations seriously injured, dead and overcrowded." The organization was critical of the Canadian inspection agency, saying it was understaffed, and inconsistent in reporting problems and enforcing rules. While concerned about the welfare of the animals being transported, WSPA said the fact that there is only one CFIA inspector for every ttwo million animals reveals a critical weakness in Canada's food supply chain, raising concerns over the safety of Canadian meats. Animals were not suffering solely en route to slaughterhouses, but also while being transported out of Canada to international destinations, such as Mexico, the report claims.
The WSPA's report identified several key issues: "Unacceptable numbers of animals, particularly chickens, die during transport...two to three million animals arrive dead each year.
Animals are transported in overcrowded conditions... so crowded that they cannot lie down or turn around.
Severely injured, crippled and sick animals are transported in contravention of the Health of Animals regulations.
Severely compromised animals are transported and left to suffer for prolonged periods in contravention of the Health of Animals regulations.
A shortage of specially-trained animal welfare inspectors, particularly veterinarians, puts animal health and welfare at risk."
Farm groups have accused the WSPA of distorting the facts and overstating the incidence of animal mortality during transit. One industry representative who spoke up was Crystal Mackay, the Executive Director of the Ontario Farm Animal Council. She told Better Farming that most farm animals do not suffer and die while being sent to slaughter houses. Mackay also said farmers, as well as others involved in Canada's food supply chain want the animals to receive humane treatment.
In a letter to the Globe & Mail about the report, Mackay said "The few horrific cases cited do not accurately portray the reality for the hundreds of millions of animals that are safely transported; the people responsible for such extreme treatment should be charged and held responsible for their actions." She added that farmers were investing money into the humane transit of livestock.
Better Farming reported that CFIA would study the report. WSPA said CFIA was reluctant to provide the animal welfare organization with reports, saying " WSPA submitted an access to information request at the end of 2008, and it took nearly a year before we began receiving the reports requested — and we still haven't received them all."
An information sheet put out by CFIA states that animals must not be overcrowded when being transported. On long journeys, the animals must receive food, water and rest. Handlers must also ensure animals are handled so as to not harm them in any way, or cause suffering. The WSPA report stated the regulations "... allow horses, pigs and poultry to be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water and being unloaded to the ground for a rest. For cattle, sheep and goats, the limit is 52 hours. For the millions of animals that are exported annually, the clock is reset to zero when they cross our national border and a new journey begins under the importing country’s legislation."
Conservative MP Larry Miller, a member of the federal Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, used to run a beef operation in Grey Country, Ontario. Better Farming contacted him about WSPA's report, and Miller responded by saying the animal welfare organization had exaggerated the number of animal deaths. "... they (the Society) make it sound like it’s an epidemic.”
A number of animal welfare organizations have been lobbying CFIA for years for a review and update of the Humane Transport regulations, hoping for better protection of the animals.
WSPA said more than 700 million animals are shipped to slaughterhouses each year.
WSPA made its report, Curb the Cruelty, available to the public on June 2, 2010.