|By LINDA McGURK
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The USDA recently changed its interpretation of the 28-Hour Law, which regulates long-distance transports of farm animals, to include transports by truck.
The law - originally passed in 1873 - states that livestock can’t be confined for more than 28 consecutive hours without being unloaded for food, water and at least five hours of rest when transported interstate by rail. The law was amended in 1906 and 1994, but this is the first time USDA has declared that the law should apply to modern truck transports.
The change came in response to a 2005 petition from several animal-welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
“This is a very basic animal-welfare standard that Congress enacted over 100 years ago ... We’re talking about setting a really low bar, but at some point you’ve got to make sure that enough is enough,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of animal protection litigation with the HSUS.
There are no reliable statistics on how many cattle, sheep and hogs are transported in excess of 28 hours without food, water and rest every year, but the animal-welfare group holds that they number in the millions. But pork producers in Indiana, the fifth largest hog-producing state in the nation, said there is little financial incentive in hauling the animals long distance, and didn’t anticipate any major effects of the decision.
“This is almost a non-issue for Indiana. I don’t have any statistics, but we export very little outside the state,” said Greg Slipher, spokesman for Indiana Pork Producers Assoc.
He added that the National Pork Board (NPB) is funding a study on hog transports in the hope of identifying how many hours pigs can be transported before they are negatively affected.
“As an industry, we won’t continue to succeed unless the animals are treated humanely,” Slipher said.
Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, agreed that the impact of the USDA’s policy change on the hog industry will be relatively low.
“Most packing plants are within a short drive of the producers,” he said. “And even for long-distance routes from North Carolina to Iowa, for example, the industry standard is to have two drivers. That way they can make it in about 22 hours.”
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides rest stations for livestock throughout the country, but Warner said offloading the animals raises biosecurity issues, and may cause increased stress in the animals.
“I’m not saying that we oppose or support (the decision),” Warner added. “We want to know how it will affect the pigs. It’s in our interest that every pig is alive when they arrive; and if we find out more pigs will die or catch disease, then it will cause more harm than good.”
Warner pointed out that the industry has acted to improve animal transports by introducing the Trucker Quality Assurance Program in 2002. The program is funded by the NPB and aims to educate truck drivers about properly loading and handling hogs.
Animal-welfare groups welcomed USDA’s decision, although Lovvorn contended the law still doesn’t do enough to protect animals.
“Most animal-welfare experts agree that even 28 hours is too long, but this is an important step to put a limit on (transports),” he said. “The purpose of the law is to make sure that whatever happens, it doesn’t get beyond a certain point.”
In Europe, long-lasting controversy over animal transports resulted in new legislation two years ago, mandating vehicle upgrades and imposing stringent regulations on journeys exceeding eight hours.
Considering the legal action taken by some animal-welfare groups in several states, Warner considers it possible that harsher restrictions are in store for American farmers, as well. “I can certainly see that happening,” he said.
Violations of the 28-Hour Law will be brought to the appropriate district court by the Attorney General. APHIS is currently investigating a June shipment of breeding pigs from Ohio to Mexico, which resulted in the deaths of more than 150 animals at a Brownsville, Texas, livestock export facility.
This farm news was published in the Oct. 18, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.