In late August, AWI sent a letter to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack about an incident in which 207 cattle (over 9%) onboard a shipment from Delaware to Qatar died from largely preventable conditions. According to records we obtained, high rates of calving, calving-related deaths, and lame and/or downed cattle involved in the incident reveal that fitness-to-travel criteria (regulations promulgated in response to AWI’s 2013 rulemaking petition) were likely not followed. We urged the secretary to ensure that port veterinarians properly evaluate fitness-to-travel criteria so that sick, injured, or heavily pregnant animals are not sent on long, cramped journeys. We also suggested that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service consider revising its regulations relating to stocking densities, since many of the deaths appear to have been due to heat stress.
In response to our letter, APHIS administrator Kevin Shea asserted that the incident had already been investigated thoroughly, that port veterinarians adequately evaluated the cattle before transport, and that animal health during the journey largely rests upon the vessel operator itself. Shea also mentioned that APHIS would consider AWI’s input as it continued to review its regulations and documents relating to animal export. While we appreciate the response, we remain unconvinced that the welfare of live animals shipped from the United States is being adequately monitored.