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Long Distance Transport: It’s
Time to Stop Driving the Pain By Monica Engebretson
One of the most stressful events in a farmed animal’s
life is transportation. Nearly all of the billions of farmed animals—whether
conventionally, humanely or organically raised—are subjected to transportation
at some point during their lives. It is also one of the most important
welfare issues affecting farmed animals.
Unfortunately, transport distances and conditions have largely been ignored by
humane labeling programs and animal protection laws.
At the federal level, Congress has enacted more that 50 statues regarding animal
welfare, but only two laws address the welfare of animals raised for food or
food production—the 28-Hour Law and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Although the 28-Hour Law requires that livestock transported across state lines
in “rail carriers, express carriers, or common carriers” be humanely
unloaded into pens for food, water, and at least five hours of rest every 28
hours, this law is rarely, if ever, enforced.
Were the 28-Hour Law enforced, it would still not be adequate to assure the well-being
of transported animals. The law also falls far short of the nine-hour transport/12-hour
rest period recently proposed by the European Commission and is seriously deficient
when compared to the eight-hour limit proposed as an international standard by
animal advocacy organizations.
Highways to Hell
It is well documented in scientific literature that time spent in transit is
extremely stressful for farmed animals. Despite the considerable stress that
transport causes, farmed animals are typically moved several times during their
lives, often over large distances. It is standard practice for animals, once
weaned, to be moved from “growing areas” to “finishing areas” for
further fattening, and then moved again to the slaughterhouse.
Pigs, for example, may be shipped from farrowing operations in North Carolina
to nursery or grower/finisher facilities in Iowa, where they are fed to market
weights, then moved again to California for slaughter. Unfortunately, the number
of animals affected appears to be escalating: the number of hogs crossing state
lines increased from three million in the 1970s to five million in the early
90s, and totaled 26.9 million in 2001.
The toll transport takes on animals is great. Pigs are particularly sensitive
to transport stress and many arrive injured or dead at the slaughterhouse. Approximately
260,000 pigs die per year during the transit process. It has also been estimated
that, annually, about 82,000 pigs taken to market in the U.S. arrive “fatigued”—out
of breath and unable to get off the truck on their own.
The situation is similar for cattle. In the fall, soon after weaning, beef calves
from California to Colorado are transported to the Plains states to graze on
cool-season pastures and then on to summer pastures or feedlots. In some cases,
calves are sent directly to the feedlot. For about four months at the feedlot,
cattle are fed high-energy rations of grain, silage, hay, and/or protein supplements—including
the rendered by-products of other animals such as pigs and chickens—before
being transported to auctions or directly to the slaughterhouse.
Cattle can become stressed, injured and exposed to disease during transport and
movement through auctions. In the U.S., it is estimated that 120,000 feedlot
cattle die as a consequence of transport stress. One study estimates that for
every 1,000 cattle entering feedlots, 12 die.
Data on interstate livestock movement in the U.S. are highly fragmented and limited
in geographic and historic scope, due to lack of accurate recordkeeping by individual
states and the lack of a national animal tracking system. A 1998 study on interstate
cattle movement found that only 18 of the 50 states record updated import and
export information, using certificates of veterinary inspection and occasionally
entry permits for verification. Not all of these states classified their import
records based on the reason for import (e.g. feeding, grazing, breeding or slaughter).
This haphazard and inconsistent or non-existent tracking method has raised public
health and safety concerns. A 2003 report by the non-profit Trust for America’s
Health stated, “Without sufficient funding to track animal health, the
U.S. is missing the chance to detect a zoonotic disease early, and control if
not prevent its spread. This is troubling given that many bioterror agents are
The inability to successfully track diseased livestock was demonstrated in December
2003 following the first confirmed case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or “mad
cow” disease in an American cow—after seven weeks of tracking efforts,
only one-third of the animals were found.
Over the Border In the summer and fall of 2005, the Animal Protection Institute (API) and Compassion
in World Farming (CIWF) carried out a landmark investigation into the transport
of live farmed animals throughout the U.S.—uncovering shocking conditions,
and long days and nights of grueling travel. The investigation documented the
transport of live cows within the U.S. and the transport of pigs from the U.S.
to Mexican slaughterhouses.
Investigators documented animals arriving at and proceeding through auction with
broken legs, infected eyes, foaming mouths, and bleeding cuts and sores. Dead
and downed animals were also seen at the auctions. In addition, investigators
filmed the unloading of “cull sows” (mother pigs from factory farms)
destined for slaughter. Many of these pigs had difficulty walking, having spent
nearly their entire lives in confinement.
During this investigation, API and CIWF were shocked to uncover the common practice
of live pigs shipped over the Mexican border on crowded trucks through hours
and hours of baking desert heat without food, water, or rest, only to be slaughtered
at the end of the journey.
At one Mexican slaughterhouse, investigators were informed that more than 400
pigs were slaughtered per day, most of them from the U.S. Conversations between
investigators and pig dealers in the U.S. revealed that low labor costs and the
lack of government oversight are considered the primary (if not the only) benefits
of sending live pigs to Mexico for slaughter.
Investigators also discovered that often, as the manager of one Mexican pork
processing plant put it, the “raw product” (live pigs) is imported
from the U.S., slaughtered and processed in Mexico, and then re-exported back
north across the border.
Missing the Boat
The long distance transport of farmed animals has become an issue of international
concern. Recently the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), a body with
164 member countries, recognized by the World Trade Organization as the leading
authority on animal health, developed general guidelines for the care and handling
of animals during transport and slaughter.
The United States is a member of the OIE, but has failed to develop regulations
or laws to adequately meet global standards. However, both the European Union
and Canada are in the process of updating and reviewing their animal transport
It is time for the U.S. to match international progress on this issue.
Specifically, Congress should enact legislation to regulate the transportation
of animals used in food production to ensure humane treatment and disease control.
In addition, the USDA should immediately develop voluntary guidelines based on
the standards put forth by the OIE and monitor and measure compliance with these
guidelines to determine effectiveness.
Public opinion surveys conducted in the U.S. have demonstrated that Americans
are quite concerned about animal pain and suffering. In a national survey conducted
in 1995 by Opinion Research Corporation for Animal Rights International, 93 percent
of respondents agreed that “animal pain and suffering should be reduced
as much as possible, even though the animals are going to be slaughtered.” While
not everyone who is concerned about the treatment of farmed animals will take
the most logical step and become vegan, most will support reforms aimed at reducing
the suffering endured by animals used in food production.
Because animal protection legislation stems largely from civil society pressure,
public education and advocacy will be vital in effecting lasting change for transported
farmed animals. Consumer opinions and expectations regarding animal welfare have
proven to be a major driving force in improving the welfare of farmed animals—as
evidenced by food chains, grocers and restaurants that have developed their own
animal welfare standards that their suppliers must meet. It is foreseeable that
such standards could be extended to include transport limits.
Given the large number of animals affected, reducing travel distances and improving
transport conditions would do much to reduce overall suffering endured by farmed
animals even if it cannot resolve the fact that their lives will be prematurely
and violently ended.
Monica Engebretson is Project Director for the Animal Protection Institute. To
view the API and CIWF report on transport and for information on how you can
help visit www.api4animals.com.