Industry explores use of smart sensor technology in livestock trailers
By Owen Roberts
The farm community didn’t like it one bit when the court dismissed charges of mischief laid in the summer of 2015 against Anita Krajnc, a Toronto animal rights activist, for giving pigs water while they were being transported to a processor.
She claimed it was an act of compassion and that, legally, livestock are “human persons.”
The judge didn’t buy it. But neither did he consider that she had harmed the animals or prevented their slaughter. So Kranjc went free.
Producers hit the roof. They considered her tactics a clear act of interference. But the ruling that livestock are not people was about the best they were going to get out of this case.
Going forward, though, it once again turned the spotlight on livestock transportation. The industry needed to asked why Kranjc and other activists thought, in the first place, the pigs needed water. Or the chickens and cows they had approached at other times but had not been charged for doing so.
Was it truly a matter of wanting to quench the animals’ thirst? Or was it yet another way to protest animal agriculture?
But whatever the case, the situation prompted more discussion about animal welfare during transportation within the province or across the country.
University of Guelph researchers and others have long worked with producers, producer groups, truckers, self-interest groups and processors to ensure transportation is humane. So, no one had to start from scratch when explaining the ins and outs of livestock transportation to the curious public … and assure them that improvements are continual.
In fact, in February, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced that, in one year, the government would institute amendments to the Health of Animals Regulations (Part XII) on animal transportation. The CFIA said it had consulted extensively with farm groups, transporters, members of the public and interested groups, resulting in what it called “an unprecedented number of responses to the CFIA's proposals” – more than 51,000 comments, in fact.
The CFIA also considered the latest research on animal transportation and international standards, the agency said.
“These new, stronger regulations include both prescriptive and outcome-based requirements that emphasize and improve the health and wellbeing of the animals during the entire transportation process,” the CFIA said. “The amendments will also increase consumer confidence, strengthen Canada's international trade status and facilitate market access.”
Broadly, the amendments go beyond transport journey to cover the full time from when animals are prepared for transit to the time they reach their destinations.
The new regulations are more detailed with respect to the different needs of different types of animals. The rules specify intervals for transporters to provide food, water and rest, the CFIA says.
Technology can be part of the solution. Last week, a Guelph-based company called Transport Genie announced it was teaming up with Luckhart Transport Ltd., based in Sebringville, Ont., for a two-year research collaboration led by the Canadian Animal Health Coalition to validate new smart sensor technology.
The technology examined in this study, which includes tapping expertise from researchers from Guelph, the University of Saskatchewan and AAFC, involves sensors that monitor microclimate conditions inside conventional livestock trailers.
“Being able to monitor the environmental conditions the animals are being exposed to, and perhaps even monitor the animals directly through video cameras in real time, would be a major improvement over drivers just checking on their animals when they take a driving break,” says Dr. Derek Haley, a University of Guelph researcher.
“This made-in-Canada solution brought forward by our growing ag tech sector is, potentially, offering a very useful middle ground compared with using completely enclosed vehicles, with total mechanical climate control.”
Joel Sotomayor, Transport Genie’s president, says blockchain technology is employed to store and share microclimate information with truck drivers and other users along the supply chain.
A key focus for the field trials will be to see how Transport Genie sensors can improve the process of disinfecting livestock trailers. Luckhart Transport was one of the first companies in Canada to invest in a thermally assisted drying and disinfection system that uses heat to dry equipment after washing.
The process, called “baking,” is designed to kill pathogens that cause diseases like porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. To properly bake a trailer and destroy pathogens, it must be heated to a temperature of 75 C (167 F) for 15 minutes. Determining where and how these temperatures have been achieved is another role for Transport Genie.
And the ingenuity being shown here to support better animal welfare shows once again why farmers support research.