POLITICS

Animal rights group urges new transportation regulations after abuse allegations

10/13/2014 12:29 EDT | Updated 12/13/2014 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - An animal rights group is urging the federal government to finally move forward with updated transportation regulations after allegations of abuse at a hog facility in Red Deer.

Mercy for Animals Canada has released a video taken at the Western Hog Exchange facility earlier this year that shows hogs being kicked and struck with what appears to be a club.

The organization says the video was taken undercover and it also shows some of the animals limping and others crammed into a corral.

Alberta's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is looking into the allegations and the facility has also launched an independent investigation with third-party experts in animal care and transportation.

But Mercy for Animals says only the federal government can ensure such treatment doesn't happen again.

"Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has the power and the responsibility to protect pigs and other farmed animals from flagrant cruelty, neglect and agonizing deaths during transport," said Krista Osborne, executive director of Mercy for Animals at a news conference Monday.

The group wants the federal regulations that govern animal transport updated to include measurable standards of care and clearer definitions on what constitutes acceptable transportation conditions.

For example, the group says, some animals can be transported for up to 52 hours without access to food, water or rest, while in the rest of the western world that standard is eight hours.

Another example is weather. Despite the extremes of the Canadian climate, there are no specific guidelines on what transportation conditions need to be in place to prevent animals being harmed by exposure to the elements.

The group also wants financial penalties for breaking the rules to be raised and more strictly enforced.

In March, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz had told the House of Commons that new regulations were under review.

His office would only provide comments via e-mail Monday and they did not answer a query about the status of that review, saying only that animal welfare is a shared jurisdiction.

Ritz also cited increased enforcement powers given to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to monitor animal welfare.

"We expect anyone found violating these laws will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible," the minister said in the e-mail.

In this case, a CFIA worker is also under investigation for potentially being complicit in the incident as they were onsite at the time and did not report any wrongdoing.

"CFIA management has met with all inspection staff in the area to reinforce our values of courage, rigour and respect," the agency said in a statement on its website.

"We have also taken this opportunity to discuss with staff our ongoing expectation that animal welfare responsibilities be carried out in a compassionate and respectful manner."

The agency was unable to answer questions Monday on the status of regulatory review or whether the results of their internal investigation would be made public.

Reports going back as far as 2005-2006 have referenced changing the rules around animal transport.

CFIA's planning report for 2014-2015 was explicit.

"This review will include consultations with stakeholders and a detailed analysis of the current science in this field," said the report.

"Amendments to the regulations will address new technology and industry practices that did not exist when the humane transportation portion of the regulations was first drafted."

Western Hog Exchange chairman Brent Moen says he viewed the footage last month, and what he saw strays far from its standards.

"Many of the images we saw on the video were shocking and disturbing, and they are not in keeping with the animal care training and policies in place at WHE," Moen said in a statement on the company website.

“The Western Hog Exchange takes responsibility for what happens at our facilities and we will cooperate fully with the proper authorities and our third-party experts to make this right,” he said.