EASTERN ONTARIO — A new federal regulation requiring livestock truckers to document if the animals they’re carrying were recently fed, watered and rested appears to have about as much muscle behind it — and about as much relevance — as the law requiring bells on bicycles.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s amendment to regulations under the Humane Transportation of Animals compels anyone transporting cattle and other livestock to possess paperwork showing those animals were properly treated before they boarded.
More than two years after a two-year enforcement grace period expired (last February), those in the Ontario cattle industry say the rule isn’t getting much uptake or enforcement amid confusion and continued lack of familiarity with it. Nor is there a standard document in use. And yet, if livestock are transported anywhere, even one kilometre down the road, the new red tape applies.
Mike Fallis, a Peterborough County beef producer, said that he transports his own cattle and confirmed that his butcher takes a copy of the document when he drops cattle there for slaughter.
Some sale barns, however, are another story, according to Fallis, who understands reluctance. “They don’t want anything to do with it,” he said, noting that the sale barn operators are required to complete the animal care paper work for each animal leaving the building.
It becomes especially complicated and impractical when an incoming load of cattle is sold to multiple buyers. “If you split a load of cattle up between eight guys, who’s doing all that paperwork?” he asked. “One piece of paper isn’t going to work for all eight.
“I’m pretty sure the sale barn, while they’re trying to sort cattle and put cattle in pens to leave with certain loads, doesn’t have somebody back there with a pad of paper getting to fill out all this information.”
The Beef Farmers of Ontario did make special double-carbon-copy pads of a transportation document available to members, according to Fallis, who says he grabbed one at BFO’s spring meeting. “It’s a fill-in-blank kind of thing,” he said.
“I probably put it in my office and don’t know where it is right at the moment,” he chuckled.
Fallis called the new law “at this point, pointless” and agreed the industry operated without it for generations without issue.
The feds “put it out there, and said there would be education and training on it, and there wasn’t. They just gave it to us, and now we’re just doing what we wanted to do in the first place: Absolutely nothing.”
He said he personally hasn’t heard of any farmer being fined for not complying. “How do you fine somebody for something that doesn’t make any sense?”
Norwood-area beef producer John Lunn criticized the Beef Farmers of Ontario and Canadian Cattle Association for going along with the rule change “as the best we could hope for.”
Lunn said a producer group in western Canada has begun pushing for an exemption when moving cattle within a 300-km radius. “The problem is, we’re acting after the fact again.”
The rule “was being enforced heavily, but there was a lot of blowback,” said Lunn. “It depends which salebarn you’re going to, whether it’s being enforced or not.”
“Definitely it’s causing confusion. Nobody really knows what the law is,” Mike Dick, Renfrew Pontiac Livestock Exchange co-owner, said.
Dick said his sale barn found a workaround by making its own manifests for trucks that show up at the facility without the new documentation. “We fill it out at the barn before they unload and then we don’t have to worry about it,” he said, adding the arrangement had the blessing of a CFIA inspector. But the CFIA’s tune changed after that inspector resigned. “Now they’re telling us, well, no, that’s not really allowed. But we’re still doing it.”
He added, “They’ve kind of backed off a little bit. There are still lots and lots of farmers showing up at the sale barn with no transcript.”
Dick said he’s never seen an animal welfare issue when it comes to local cattle. The only potential problems that could occur are when shipping animals across the country, he said. “If (CFIA) are worried about an animal coming to the local sale barn that hasn’t been on feed and water for 24 hours, it’s a very, very rare instance. Farmers bring their animals well fed and watered up.”