Dead, Dying, and Diseased: Canada’s Inhumane Animal Transport System

On a bitter -20°C morning, dozens of dogs were loaded onto an open-sided semi trailer in Calgary, Alberta. They were destined for Toronto, Ontario – a 36 hour journey without any stops for rest, food or water. Completely exposed to the elements and the extreme wind chill of -40°C, many dogs developed severe frostbite. Dogs that were already in poor health were unable to keep their bodies warm and froze to death. Upon arrival in Toronto, a federal government inspector watched as workers unloaded the dogs from the trailer. He counted the frozen carcasses being tossed off the trailer and marked them on his clipboard as “Dead on Arrival”. The shivering, frostbitten dogs were marked down as “Condemned – Frostbite” and were subsequently killed by workers. The inspector observed that a number of dogs had distinct coughs and found that they all suffered from pneumonia. These dogs were also marked as “Condemned” before being killed, their lifeless bodies discarded in a large waste bin.

This abject cruelty and callous disregard for dignity is a fictional example for dogs but an everyday reality for the hundreds of millions of animals that are slaughtered for food in Canada. Canada’s livestock transport regulations are known as some of the worst in the western world. Below are the maximum times that animals can be transported without food, rest, or water.

Government of Canada Health of Animals Regulations

In the fictional scenario described above, the people responsible for transporting dogs in these conditions would be charged with animal cruelty, and a case of this magnitude would receive widespread media attention and public outcry. But because farm animals aren’t afforded the same legal protections that companion animals are, their suffering and deaths on transport trucks are mere numbers on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s spreadsheets. We looked at these numbers to show how widespread animal cruelty is in Canada’s transportation sector.

Cows in transport trucks, arriving at the slaughterhouse. Toronto 2015. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

When animals arrive at provincial and federal slaughterhouses, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspects the conditions of animals prior to and following their slaughter. The ante-mortem and post-mortem evaluations document the conditions of animals considered unfit for human consumption – in other words: “condemned”. Two broad categories exist for condemned animals: Number Found Dead, and Condemned (due to various conditions discovered prior to or after slaughter). The former category is useful for showing how many animals die on transport trucks in Canada. The latter category sheds light on a number of deeply disturbing issues in our animal agriculture system:

  1. How poorly animals are treated on farms. The nature and number of diseases reveal that farm animals lacked any veterinary care and should have either been medically treated or euthanized, but instead were left to suffer with these painful conditions and loaded onto transport trucks only to be condemned and killed.
  2. The horrific conditions of transport trucks. Some of the conditions would have been developed on the trucks themselves and they reveal how tortuous these journeys are for animals. For example, frostbite is an official reason to condemn an animal. Bruising is another. Emaciation is a third.
  3. The extreme suffering animals experience. Many of the conditions that animals are condemned for are extremely painful and show the extent of neglect that they experience in the animal agriculture system before they even get loaded onto transport trucks. The following are the recorded lists of conditions. (These reports and other livestock data can be accessed on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website here. Click the following links for the descriptions of these conditions for chickens and turkeys and for pigs and cows).

The total number of animals condemned at federally inspected slaughterhouses can be found in the table below. Note that this does not include animals condemned in provincial slaughterhouses as this information is not published by the federal government. However, this means that the total number of animals that die in transport and are condemned in Canada each year is considerably higher.

Dead on ArrivalCondemned (upon ante/post mortem inspection)Total Condemned
Chickens1,232,1498,712,8979,945,046
Turkeys16,94388,911105,854
Pigs12,94968,89081,839
Cows7867,5768,362
Total1,262,8278,878,27410,141,101
Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

The millions of animals that suffer and die on transport trucks represents the status quo of Canada’s cruel agricultural system. We previously examined animal cruelty laws in Canada and found that the legal exceptions for animal agriculture effectively makes this entire industry a systematic network of state-sanctioned animal cruelty. The number of animal deaths on transport trucks and complete absence of animal cruelty charges reinforces this point. No one is held responsible or accountable for these horrific deaths on transport trucks, but should someone be? Is it time to call out individuals and entities that are responsible for these deaths and hold them to account? But who should that be?

Chickens in a transport truck on their way to slaughter. Toronto 2015. Photo Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Should it be the farmers who neglect their animals and fail to provide them with adequate veterinary care, allowing the animals to waste away to such a poor state that they are unable to survive the journeys to the slaughterhouse? Should it be the truckers or trucking companies who drive the animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse? What about the manufacturers that build these trailers that fail to protect animals from the elements? Or maybe the company that operates the slaughterhouse that receives and kills these animals?

Maybe the ones that should be held responsible are the food companies that the meat is being supplied to. What about the consumers? Do they even know the extent of how much suffering goes into a piece of meat that they purchase from the grocery store? With politicians like Ontario MPP Ernie Hardeman, Alberta MLA Devin Dreeshen, and federal MP John Barlow pushing Ag-Gag laws in Canada that serve to hide these horrific realities from the public, can consumers really be to blame for supporting this system if they don’t even know what’s happening to animals?

Pigs going to the slaughterhouse inside transport trucks in the heat of summer. Toronto 2013. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

What about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency? This is the government agency that is counting the dead bodies and is responsible for enforcing Canada’s transport regulations. But if these kinds of numbers are not in violation of any Canadian laws, then is it the legislators that should be held accountable? Is it Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau, that is ultimately responsible for these dead and diseased animals? Does the buck stop here? Is the Minister’s Office the place where animal cruelty charges should be laid?

If not, then where? Where do we point the finger and who will answer for this cruelty?