USDA applies animal welfare law to livestock hauled by trucks.

The recent decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to apply the nation's oldest animal welfare law β€” when farm animals were shipped solely by rail β€” to the modern transport of farm animals by truck has raised a few eyebrows at the National Pork Board.

The 1873 law, revised in 1906 and again in 1994, includes all rail, express or common carriers of farm animals, except by air or by water. It specifies that no animal species may be transported over 28 consecutive hours before being offloaded for at least five hours to eat, drink and rest, explains Sherrie Niekamp, director of animal welfare, National Pork Board.

The ruling marks the first time that USDA has officially recognized that the 28-hour law applies to the transport of animals by truck, says the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The move by USDA came in response to a legal petition submitted in October 2005 by HSUS and other humane organizations.

There are concerns about the ruling, but not because it will greatly impact the pork industry, says Niekamp, since very few pigs are transported longer than 28 hours.

β€œIt is a little bit of a worry to extrapolate the time limit for rail cars into the time limit for all current forms of transport of farm animals, because conditions in a rail car are much different than conditions of modern truck transport over the interstate highways that we have today,” points out Niekamp.

Market hogs are seldom hauled more than a few hours, but weaned pigs and breeding stock are hauled longer distances across the United States.

There needs to be more research into the effects on the well-being of livestock hauled long distances under North American conditions. That represents a developing research priority for the Pork Board, she says.

USDA has developed a list of rest stops, with provisions for food and water, for trucks hauling livestock throughout the country.

Unloading hogs for five hours and then reloading them, however, could create a level of stress in itself that has not been well defined, says Niekamp.

That process could also raise a biosecurity risk if hogs were unloaded into a common containment area, and then reloaded and transported to their destination.

Proper handling and transport of pigs is covered under the Pork Board's Trucker Quality Assurance program which is revised every three years, says Niekamp.