In 2020, nearly 19 million live animals were exported from Canada to 55 countries worldwide. While Canadians spent much of the year in lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shipment of live animals from Canada continued virtually unabated. Setting aside the inherently cruel practice of shipping animals in long, harsh journeys on livestock trucks, sea carriers, and airplanes, the pandemic that has been cast over our civilization has reminded us that the way we treat animals has a direct bearing on our own livelihoods. To that, the live export of animals is no exception.
The Disease Export Trade
The first case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or Mad Cow Disease) was reported in the United Kingdom in 1987. That same year, a 1 year old calf from a UK farm was exported to Canada. 6 years later she was found lying on a road, incapacitated. She was killed, beheaded, and her head sent to federal inspectors for testing. A diagnosis in 1993 made this the first reported case of BSE in Canada. Since then, the global trade of live animals has dramatically increased, of which Canada is a global leader. Despite living under a zoonotic disease pandemic, the global spread of infectious diseases through the live export trade has not made governments pause and question whether this practice should be halted given the tremendous risks it poses.
A striking example of the disconnect between these risks and a government’s trade policy can be seen in November of 2020, when Canada’s first human case of swine flu H1N2 was reported in Alberta. In that month alone, Canada exported 453,789 pigs to 7 different countries. “The United States and Canada, the largest exporters of hog, are also the largest exporters of swine flu,” says Rob Wallace, an evolutionary biologist quoted in a chilling Mother Jones article that examined the pandemic risks of industrial pig farms.
Last year, we published Canada’s live animal export data and found that 22 million animals were exported abroad from Canada. While there were fewer animals exported in 2020 than the previous year, this is likely the result of disruptions from the pandemic rather than a change in public policy. The months immediately following the first series of lockdowns (April, May) saw sharp declines in the live export of animals, however this quickly returned to normal levels and was followed by a dramatic increase in December of 2020, particularly in the live export of chickens.
Public Policy as a Public Health Threat
The Government of Canada prides itself on being a leading exporter of agricultural products, which of course includes live animals. In January 2020, the government announced a $162.2 million investment to strengthen the Canadian Food Inspection Agency: “With this funding, the CFIA will strengthen its ability to deliver timely inspection and certification of agriculture and agri-food exports, facilitating access to international markets for Canadian businesses.” (Emphasis added). It’s a matter of Canadian public policy that agribusinesses are supported to access new markets to ship live animals. It should also be noted that the leader of the Official Opposition, Erin O’Toole, promised to expand Canada’s live animal export trade during his 2020 leadership campaign for the Conservative Party of Canada. From his campaign platform, “As leader of the Conservative Party, I will fight for our farm families by: opening up new markets for our livestock…”
As long as policymakers, politicians, and businesses view animals as commodities wherein their import and export contribute to the country’s GDP, animals will suffer and humans will live under a permanent state of risk. The more we increase the human-animal interface and expand the export of live animals, the closer we push the needle towards another pandemic.
In their recent article in Environmental and Resource Economics, Espinosa et al. write:
With the reduction in transportation costs and the intensification of the livestock sector, the world trade in livestock and livestock products have increased substantially. In 2017, approximately two billion animals were transported on ships. The journeys usually take place in very poor conditions and can last up to several weeks. During these journeys, animals live in close proximity, are immunosuppressed, and are in constant contact with other animals and with their own waste. The long-distance transportation of live animals and livestock products increases the risk and speed of a disease spreading, such as with the African Swine Fever in China and influenza A globally.Romain Espinosa,Damian Tago & Nicolas Treich – Infectious Diseases and Meat Production
Canada’s Live Animal Trade: The Numbers
18,884,881 animals were exported from Canada to 55 countries in 2020. While our attention here is on the live export of animals from Canada, the number of animals imported into Canada are staggering. 42,818,966 animals were imported into Canada last year. 19,225 animals were “re-exported”, meaning that they were imported into Canada, and then subsequently exported. The data cited on this page can all be located using the Canadian International Merchandise Trade Database.
In total, 61,723,102 live animals were shipped across Canada’s international borders in 2020.
Click on any graphic to view the full version and swipe through the images.
The End of Live Animal Export
There are currently campaigns underway in Canada that are calling on the government to end international transport for specific animals. The Canadian Horse Defense Coalition has been working to end the overseas transport of live horses for slaughter and have an active campaign being spearheaded by Jann Arden. Visit the #Horseshit campaign page and click here for more information including ways you can take action.
Animal Justice and World Animal Protection Canada have created ways you can take action to end the commercial wildlife trade: sign the petition or send an email to the Government of Canada. There is also a federal petition e-3015 currently open for signatures calling on the Prime Minister to support the closure of global wildlife markets and end the trade of wild animals.
While there needs to be a total ban on the trade of live animals, incremental challenges to this industry are vital in achieving that goal. In exposing and working to end portions of Canada’s live animal trade, we need to shine the spotlight on the remaining dark corners of this practice and advocate for change.