Washington, D.C. -- The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) have petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to amend the U.S. animal export regulations to include “fitness to travel” requirements for all farmed animals exported to any foreign country except those traveling overland to Canada or Mexico. AWI and WSPA are recommending that the USDA adopt the fitness requirements included in the animal transport standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (or “OIE”).
Live animal exports from the U.S. have increased dramatically. In 2010, the number of beef and dairy cattle exported to countries other than Canada and Mexico more than quadrupled over the previous year. Exports are projected to remain high in the coming years, with a majority of cattle going to the Eurasian countries of Turkey, Russia and Kazakhstan.
While some exported animals are flown to their destination, others are subjected to ocean journeys that can last weeks. During transport, many stressful experiences - including inadequate ventilation, noise, motion sickness and heat stress - severely impact animal welfare and make the animals more susceptible to illness and disease.
“Mortality is known to be much higher in lengthy sea transport than in domestic truck transport,” says AWI farm animal program manager Dena Jones. “We recommend that no animals be transported such long distances, but if they are, it is critical that only fit animals make the journey.”
Unfit animals include those unable to stand or bear weight on all four legs, are blind in both eyes, have unhealed wounds, are extremely young, or are pregnant and in the final stage of gestation. “Some births have occurred during recent shipments of dairy cattle, which suggests that USDA inspectors are not following the OIE’s internationally-recognized fitness requirements,” says Sharanya Prasad, U.S. programs manager for WSPA.
Many countries that export live animals to the U.S. have already enacted fitness to travel standards. The groups say implementation of such requirements by the U.S. will help harmonize national laws pertaining to international transports, reduce animal suffering, and protect both human and animal health.