May 21, 2008

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has approved a new policy covering the humane transport of equines in which it states its opposition to the use of double-deck trailers to move horses and other equines.

The use of double deck trailers for horses was brought sharply into focus late in October when a laden transporter overturned in Illinois, trapping 59 draft horses. Sixteen horses died either at the scene or from injuries received.

The 43 horses who survived were rehomed.

The AVMA says it opposes the use of double-deck trailers for horses over animal welfare and safety concerns.

It previously has supported United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations banning 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.

The new policy, proposed by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and approved by the executive board on April 12, 2008, is more far reaching, extending opposition to the transport of equines for other purposes.

"Creating this policy simply formalises 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.

The AVMA cited 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;
  • Allowing for the segregation of stallions and other aggressive equines.