When a truck driver transporting pigs to a slaughterhouse got out of his truck and threatened to phone the police on animal rights activist Anita Krajnc for giving water to the thirsty pigs inside, Krajnc advised him to call Jesus instead. Krajnc and members from Toronto Pig Save have been handing out water and watermelon pieces to transported pigs for the last two years. But back in June while giving water to the pigs, during a confrontation that was captured on video and has since gone viral, Krajnc has what she describes as a very ‘unique’ and ‘tense’ confrontation with the truck driver Jeffrey Veldjesgraaf. As a result, a phone call was made to the police. Krajnc has since been charged with criminal mischief under $5,000 and could face a potential jail sentence of up to 10 years, if convicted.
Of the 700 million farm animals killed each year in Canada, nearly every one will undergo transport at least once in its life. According to reports by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), three million animals die during transport every year. “I’ve been charged with criminal mischief, but the real crime is what’s happening to these animals,” says Krajnc, who adds that the suffering these animals endure is unfathomable. According to the Humane Society International Canada, the conditions of these transport trucks offer poor ventilation, and expose animals to outdoor temperature extremes. Often animals cannot lie down during long journeys, and can overheat. Overcrowding on trucks is another factor, which leads to some animals getting trampled and killed. The journey also subjects animals to decrease in airflow, as well as high ammonia levels, and poor air quality.
Humane Society International Canada has described the Canadian transport standards to be “among the worst in the industrialized world”. Under Canada’s transport regulations pigs, horses, and chickens can be transported for a total of 36 hours without access to food or water. But cattle, sheep, goats, and other ruminant animals can be transported under the same conditions for 52 hours. Animals must also be given an additional five-hour withdrawal period so they don’t get sick. The transport industry for livestock subjects millions of animals to grave journeys each year. It’s priority for animal welfare has been regarded as negligible, and the rules set out are being poorly enforced.
Lynn Kavanagh is on the committee board for the Canadian Coalition of Farm Animals. She says pigs are most susceptible to stress during travel and are more likely to suffer from heart attacks while en route. A few weeks prior to slaughter, Kavanagh says pigs are often fed Paylean to increase fat tissue. The side effect of the medication causes pigs to have heart attacks once they experience high stress. Overheating and freezing is another reason why animals die during transport, especially with poultry.
Eric Van Boekel is the farmer who owned the pigs Krajnc gave the water to on the truck. He said he phoned the police the next day, but it wasn’t Boekel that laid the charges. “We did not lay the charges. The police and their investigation laid the charges,” he says. When it comes to his views on the transport conditions assigned to his pigs, Boekel says, “It’s an ongoing process to do what’s best for the animals. Inhumane treatment of an animal is inappropriate for anyone at any given time. But we’re following all the CFIA guidelines and the transport industry guidelines to get these animals delivered to the plant and to their final destination. It is a top priority for all transporters.” In 2014, Maple Lodge Farms plead guilty to 20 out of 60 criminal charges laid against them when CFIA discovered that thousands of their chickens froze to death while being transported.
Due to the enormity of Canada’s landmass, the industry surrounding livestock is ‘centralized’, which is why so many animals are transported for distances. According to the federal law, animals used for public and commercial consumption must be slaughtered at a federally registered slaughter establishment, for health and sanitation reasons. Thus, animals need to be transported to slaughterhouses, which are often spread out. Some slaughterhouses only cater to certain species, and only operate on certain days. Along with substandard transport conditions, Kavanagh says often animals that don’t survive the journey were animals unfit for travel.
Cull animals are animals that by industry standards are considered unproductive, and undesirable. Generally, this refers to female livestock, like sows that are no longer producing piglets, or dairy cows that can no longer produce milk. Many unproductive dairy cows suffer from lameness or have various aliments, and are sometimes emaciated. Many slaughterhouses will not slaughter cull animals. They will often be transported to auctions and sold for little value, then transported again for slaughter. Kavanagh says,
“Really the most humane thing to do to for a cull dairy cow is to kill the animal on the farm and have their bodies picked up to be decomposed rather than transport them.”
According to CFIA regulations, “downer” animals, or animals that are unable to stand or walk, are prohibited from being transported. But according to CFIA records, there are still instances when downers are being transported for slaughter. In 2012, Krajnc was charged during a protest; she walked towards a slaughterhouse to capture a video of a pig screaming as it was being electrically prodded while it was being off-loaded from the transport truck. “It’s a universal principle. When someone is suffering, you try to help them,” say Krajnc. Using an electric prod while off-loading animals is a practice accepted by industry standards. However, there are restrictions on which parts of the animal’s body can be used. According to Krajnc, these prods are sometimes being poked into the gaps of the trucks and the animals are often prodded without discretion. “It’s not only illegal the way they operate in terms of cruelty but we also think it’s fundamentally wrong and immoral to use these instruments of torture against these gentle babies. They’re babies. They’re four to six months old,” say Krajnc. The charges against Krajnc for that incident were eventually dismissed.
The welfare standards of livestock in transport are poorly enforced within Canada, but conditions can be worse for animals that are being exported. In 2010, the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada gave CFIA a “D” because it failed to meet its requirements under Canada’s Access to information Act. “There’s no rules or regulations, and inspectors on the road. In Europe there’ s inspectors on the road that will pull over the truck and check on the animals. We’re really so far behind in this regard,” says Kavanagh. Once animals are exported, they are no longer subject to Canada’s welfare standards and can be shipped to countries with little to no animal protection. Most often livestock from Canada are exported to the U.S. for fattening and slaughter but according to Kavanagh, the transport industry does not factor the time the animals have already spent transported on Canadian soil. “The clock starts at zero again. If they’ve been transported for 15 hours in Canada and they cross the border, now they’re subject to the American regulations which is 28 hours,” says Kavanagh. The slaughterhouse reports to Boekel if any of his animals are dead on arrival. “We have had animals in the past that haven’t made it,” says Boekel. According to Boekel, on average his pigs spend no more than two hours being transported from his farm to the slaughterhouse.
Krajnc says what Toronto Pig Save does is bear witness to the animals suffering on a journey. She takes the videos and images of these animals en route so people can acknowledge their circumstances. “It’s important to give water to thirsty animals, but it’s also an opportunity for people to see if they want to participate in exploitation of these incredible creatures,” says Krajnc. Due to the lack of prioritization for animal welfare, safety and enforcement of the animal procedures by its own administration, Krajnc’s act of civil disobedience for serving water to thirsty animals sends the message that if consumers want animal welfare, and the transport industry held accountable, an activists compassion might be the only welfare treatment these animals will get.