Proposed changes to livestock transport regulations still waiting on scientific results

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) amendments to Health of Animals Regulations are set to come into force February 20, 2020, but, in the case of cattle, at least, it’s unclear if the changes will actually benefit the livestock being transported.

For cattle, the big changes proposed centre around the maximum allowable time in transit, and the amount of rest given. Currently, uncompromised adult animals that can be fed exclusively on hay and grain have a maximum time interval without feed, water, and rest of 48 hours. This is decreasing to 36 hours. In addition, the length of break will increase from 5 to 8 hours.

“When the CFIA started first talking about some of these reg changes back in the mid-2000s, then the beef industry said, ‘well, okay, if we want science-based regulations, we better get some science going to answer these questions,” says Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) science director Reynold Bergen in an interview with RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney.

Since then, a benchmarking study in Canada – the biggest study ever done on livestock transport in the world, says Bergen – found that 99.95 per cent of cattle come out of transport in good health.

Some answers, but plenty of questions remain ahead of transport regulation changes
Livestock industry surprised by timing of transport regulation roll out

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Now, through the Beef Science Cluster, research is extending into specific changes to transport. Does the time in transit change the outcomes of animals? Are there differences depending on the class of livestock? Do rest times play a role?

So far, the first year of this study has found little meaningful differences in physiological measurements – like shrink, dehydration, and muscle damage – in pre-conditioned calves immediately after transport and through the first 30 days on feed.

“What that tells us, is that rest stops do not necessarily benefit all animals, especially if they’re pre-conditioned,” says Bergen, adding the next step is to compare these animals to those who have not been pre-conditioned.

Though these specific regulations may not impact many loads of cattle in the country (as the vast majority of transport loads are under 36 hours), it could create some havoc, logistically.

“So this isn’t going to impact a whole bunch of loads, but one of the big concerns is, is that a lot of these loads – especially weaned calves – are all traveling at the same time of year,” says Bergen. “And so if it’s all loads that are traveling from the west to Ontario or Quebec that are impacted by this…do we even have the facilities to accommodate them all.”

And, how does that rest stop factor into the animal’s health, especially if they’re in contact with other animals.

As for how the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association feels about the proposed changes, Bergen says he can’t speak for them, but he thinks “it’s safe to say that the CCA wants the same thing that all the cattle producers in Canada want – they want the best outcomes for the animals, and they want science-based regulations.”

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