Millions of animals are exported from the United States annually—over 7.5 million animals in January 2015 alone. Most are shipped in aircrafts, but many are transported overseas in ocean vessels. These trips may last weeks and animals can suffer greatly from inadequate ventilation, loud noises, motion sickness, and heat stress—all of which increase susceptibility to illness and disease.
Because of the detrimental effects on animal welfare, in February 2011, AWI petitioned the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to add internationally-recognized “fitness to travel” requirements to lower the risk of illness and death on long journeys. In the four years it took the USDA to respond to AWI’s petition, animals suffered; in 2012 more than 1,000 cattle died on their way or shortly after arrival to Russia, and in 2013 carcasses of US cattle washed ashore in Northern Europe. The Russian government questioned the USDA about its protocol for shipping animals and accused the United States of “gross violations” of international animal welfare standards.
The USDA has finally rewritten its live animal export regulations. The proposed regulations will help guard against the breakdown of life support systems and help prevent the shipping of animals unfit to travel. However, there are gaps in the proposal, and the USDA still cannot guarantee safe travel. Readily available alternatives to live animal transport, such as shipment of semen and embryos, should be used instead.