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Report, 2000

Farm animal transport, welfare and meat quality

Atkinson, Sophie


When animals are exposed to a novel situation such as transportation, they react by eliciting certain physiological and behavioural functions in order to cope with the situation. These changes can be measured to indicate how much stress the animal is suffering. Physiological stress indicators often measured in animal transport research include changes in heart rate, live-weight, cortisol levels, and blood composition including electrolytes, metabolites and enzymes (Broom and Johnson, 1993). Animal behavioural stress indicators include struggling, vocalisation, kicking or biting, hunching of the back, urination, defecation and recumbence (Broom et al. 1996; Gregory, 1998). Meat quality parameters post mortem can also help to indicate stress levels in animals (Grandin, 1990; Gregory, 1998). These include incidence of bruising and DFD in all farm animal species and PSE in pigs. Mortality is also an obvious indicator of poor welfare. Combined aspects of transport that contribute to causing stress in livestock include loading and unloading procedures, close proximity to stock handlers, water/feed deprivation, noise, riding in a truck, mixing with other animals and being forced into unfamiliar environments. The responses of stock to these conditions will depend on the animal's genetically controlled adaptability, physical condition and its previous handling experiences (Gross and Siegel, 1993). Factors such as the adequate preparation of animals for transport, controlled prior access to feed and water, minimal disruption to social groups, considerate animal handling skills, adequate handling and transport facilities including good ventilation in trucks, and careful driving technique are major areas that dictate the standard of animal transport. For example, considerations for pigs should include a pre-transport fasting period which balances the requirement to avoid hunger, travel sickness and deaths. Breeding and selecting for more stress-resistant genotypes of pigs can improve the welfare by reducing mortality and the metabolic consequences of transport stress. Other factors influencing animal transport include farm size and country size. For example, livestock transport in Scandinavia involves transport vehicles travelling to more than one farm in order to fill a vehicle. In Australia often one farm pick up can fill a truck, and although the distances may be much longer to the abattoir, it will be more direct. The market demand dictates the type of animals transported. For example the veal trade in Europe demands young live calves to be transported over long distances from northern countries which supply it to the southern countries which demand it. This trade exists in live animals rather than meat because the demanding countries further fatten and slaughter these animals specific to their needs. The industry set up influences the standard of animal transport in different countries. For example in countries where industries are vertically integrated consisting of producer-owned slaughter plant co-operatives (Sweden and Denmark), producers are paid according to slaughter weight and lean meat percentage, therefore there is more consistent quality control measures in place. In Australia the marketing system is such that it provides no economic incentive to reduce losses. Greater public awareness of animal welfare seems to be increasing in western countries, and as a result there is more pressure on the livestock industry to adopt better standards for the farming, handling, transport and slaughter of animals. The transport of livestock in Australia continues to be under increased scrutiny from overseas markets and animal welfare groups. In the European Union (EU), public pressure has been a successful instigator to the drafting and continued improvement of comprehensive legislation for animal transport. EU animal transport laws cover aspects such as minimum design standards for livestock vehicles (including ventilation controls), maximum journey lengths before resting intervals, stocking rates, what animals are considered as fit to travel, and general handling and care requirements of animals in transport. These laws are causing debate between northern and southern countries in areas such as maximum journey lengths and vehicle design standards. Some countries such as the UK have also gone to a great effort to adjust national laws in order to incorporate EU transport laws, but countries such as Spain and Italy have not. Typically it is these countries that more often have poor standards of animal welfare, and the welfare of farmed animals has historically been of low priority (Schmidt, 1995). When and how these countries will adopt the comprehensive EU animal transport regulations, continues to be an unanswered and politically sensitive question between EU member states.


farm animal; transport; meat quality; welfare

Published in

Rapport (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa)
ISBN: 91-576-5989-3
Publisher: Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science
Animal and Dairy Science

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