One of the most disturbing aspects of horses hauled to slaughter (or anywhere) is the idea of cramming dozens of them into double-decker "trailers". Last summer's wreck of a tractor trailer hauling more than 60 draft horses bought at an auction is still fresh in many memories. That's right: 60 big horses in one trailer.
Many slaughter opponents have felt that an easier route to end slaughter would simply be to have a national law governing horse transport conditions. And give that law the funding needed to enforce it. Currently, some states have laws against double-decker trailers for horses, but in many states, haulers simply use secondary roads and avoid interstate highway weigh stations.
As you all know, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), is against banning slaughter, and that has been a serious issue for many in the animal world, including member veterinarians.
Last week, the AVMA reinforced its opposition to the use of double-deck trailers to transport horses and other equines by approving a new policy on the Humane Transport of Equines.
The policy, proposed by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and approved by the Executive Board on April 12, 2008, states that due to animal welfare and safety concerns, the AVMA opposes the use of double-deck trailers to transport equines. The AVMA previously has supported U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations prohibiting the use of such trailers for transport of horses and other equines to slaughter, and submitted written comments to the USDA on this issue earlier this year.
However, here's the good news: the new AVMA policy is more far reaching, extending opposition to the transport of equines for other purposes.
"Creating this policy simply formalizes recommendations made by the AVMA during the past 10 to 15 years as the Association has engaged in discussions and responded to regulatory proposals regarding transport of horses and other equines," explained Dr. Gail Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division. "The scope was broadened because the AVMA believes that humane methods of transport should apply regardless of the destination of the animals."
Earlier this year, the AVMA submitted written comments to the USDA in support of an amendment to existing regulations that would extend protections afforded to equines bound for slaughter to those delivered first to an assembly point, feedlot, or stockyard. In its response, the AVMA cited data within the scientific literature suggesting that equines suffer 3.5 times more lacerations and abrasions in double-deck trailers compared to straight-deck trailers.
The new Humane Transport of Equines policy also provides some guidelines on assessing the appropriateness of trailers for equine transport. Pertinent considerations include: affording sufficient headroom so that horses and other equines can stand with their heads extended to their fullest normal postural height, providing appropriate ventilation, ensuring there are no protrusions in the trailer that might cause injury, confirming that doors and ramps are of sufficient size to allow safe loading and unloading, ensuring that horses and other equines have appropriate footing and enough space to redistribute their weight as needed should the trailer shift during transport, and allowing for the segregation of stallions and other aggressive equines.
The complete policy may be accessed at www.avma.org/issues/policy/animal_welfare/equine_transport.asp.