Millions of livestock die every year while being transported for the purposes of consumption by humans.

Tens of millions of farm animals in the US are dying before they can be slaughtered, according to a Guardian investigation exposing the deadly conditions under which animals are transported around the country.

Approximately 20 million chickens, 330,000 pigs and 166,000 cattle are dead on arrival, or soon after, at abattoirs in the US every year, analysis of publicly available data shows. A further 800,000 pigs are calculated to be unable to walk on arrival.

Official records of how the animals died are not published, but veterinarian and welfare specialists told the Guardian the main causes were likely to be heat stress, especially during the summer months, and freezing temperatures and trauma. The numbers of deaths were likely to have been increased by the long distances some animals are forced to travel and the rising frequency of transporting them.

A truck carrying pigs was tracked while it travelled for 32 hours nonstop across the US in August last year, with the animals kept inside for the whole journey. Even longer journeys have been reported for animals being transported across the border to or from Mexico and Canada. One trucker told an animal welfare investigator he had driven cattle from the Canadian city of Quebec to Mexico, a journey of almost two days. Another trucker said he had brought cattle from a small stockyard on the east side of New York to Chihuahua in Mexico, which took 48 hours. The cattle had no water, food or rest during the journey.

Only one piece of legislation governs US animal transport: the 28-hour law, which was first enacted in 1873. The law states that animals must be unloaded, rested for five hours and given food and water if the journey is longer than 28 hours. It does not cover birds. Piper Hoffman, a legal director for the NGO Animal Outlook, said the law was originally designed to cover animals transported by rail. “It was only in 2006, in response to pressure from NGOs, that the US government acknowledged the law also protects animals transported by truck,” she said.

Despite animal transport investigations by Animal Outlook in 2005, 2012 and 2021 – all of which documented what the NGO alleged were violations of the law – no prosecutions have taken place to date.
In Europe, transporting animals by road is theoretically limited to eight or nine hours, but exceptions and implementation failures mean some journeys are far longer. The Guardian’s transport-related mortality figures for chickens were calculated by converting US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showing the weight of poultry meat condemned before slaughter.

The number of pigs is based on USDA’s 2021 slaughter figures and an analysis that found, during the years 2012 to 2015, an average of 0.26% of pigs died after transport, while 0.63% were unable to walk. The cattle figure is similarly based on USDA slaughter figures and an analysis that found an average of 0.49% of cattle were condemned after transport between 2003 and 2007. A USDA statistician who reviewed the Guardian’s analysis had no corrections to make to the final figures.

Gwendolen Reyes-Illg, a veterinarian who works with Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), a US non-profit, said research indicates the main causes of death in cattle were “heatstroke, trauma and respiratory disease … [and in] pigs, the main reason is hyperthermia (overheating), especially during summer”.
Additional risks included injuries from slipping in urine and manure, exhaustion, hunger and thirst, said Hoffman.

Dena Jones, a director at AWI, said consolidation in the meat sector with larger and fewer businesses was increasing the distances animals were having to travel to slaughter. An increasing separation between the different stages of production meant animals were also moved, for example, from growing areas to fattening areas and then to slaughter. Jones said violations of the 28-hour law were likely to be common, “perhaps affecting 10% or more of farm animals transported between states”. Responding to accusations that it has failed to properly enforce animal welfare regulations, a USDA spokesperson said in an email: “The [US] attorney general is authorised to seek civil penalties against any transporter that knowingly and wilfully violates the 28-hour law. Therefore, any further inquiries about applicability of the 28-hour rule should be directed to the Department of Justice.” The US Department of Justice did not respond to questions.

The USDA did not respond to requests for comment on the number of transport-related animal deaths, nor did the agricultural representative groups the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com