By Kent Bacus, NCBA Associate Director of Legislative Affairs
Just when you thought you’d heard it all, the federal government rolls out a new rule or regulation that makes you stop and ask just who is asleep at the wheel in Washington? If you ask the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is probably you. In an attempt to further the nanny-state, as of July 1, 2013, you will be required to pull over and take a nap when you haul cattle. What’s next, government mandated punch and cookies every 100 miles?
On Dec. 29, 2010, in order to promote safety and to protect driver health, the U.S. Department of Public Safety’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the Hours of Service of drivers transporting goods that proposed a requirement for drivers to have a mandatory periodic 30 minute “off duty” rest break (75 Fed. Reg. 82170) during the first eight hours of “on-duty” time. That proposal was ultimately finalized with slight changes nearly a year later on Dec. 27, 2011. The FMCSA’s rule also clarifies the narrow circumstances that qualify as an off duty rest break, and in doing so make clear that for livestock producers this time effectively does not include any time other than (i) “Time spent resting in or on a parked vehicle”, or (ii) “Time spent resting in a sleeper berth” and specifically does not include time spent waiting for loading or unloading of the vehicle, time spent inspecting or servicing the vehicle or, “performing any other work in the capacity, employ, or service, of a motor carrier”, or “performing any compensated work for a person who is not a motor carrier.”
For the U.S. beef industry, the safe transportation of our livestock is a top priority. We have invested a significant amount of time and resources to develop our own educational programs to make sure beef producers across the country know the safest and most efficient ways to load, transport and unload livestock. For example, the Beef Quality Assurance program’s Master Cattle Transporter training program was created by cattle industry experts and volunteers who worked together to develop low-stress safe handling and transportation methods for cattle. The program is offered to the 800,000 cattle raisers across the United States in effort to improve the overall animal handling and transportation safety of cattle. According to the Master Cattle Transporter training program, proper handling and transport of cattle can reduce sickness in calves, prevent bruises and improves the quality of the meat from these animals. The training program discusses the proper movement of cattle up to and on to the trailer, distributing cattle correctly on the trailer, hauling techniques that reduce cattle stress and how to handle emergency situations. The program also focuses on the impact of hot and cold weather conditions on cattle in transit and discourages transportation during certain hours of the day when cattle would be most vulnerable to the elements.
The Master Cattle Transporter guide recommends that when extreme heat conditions exist (when temperature and humidity create a heat index greater than or equal to 100 degrees Fahrenheit) cattle are placed at a significant health risk. Furthermore, when cattle are stressed in extreme heat conditions, they are more likely to become non-ambulatory, sick and even die. It is further recommended that one avoid hauling and handling cattle between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is most often the hottest time of the day. But if cattle must be transported during times of high temperature and humidity, it is recommended the driver not stop at all. Internal trailer temperatures will rapidly increase when the vehicle stops moving due to loss of significant airflow through the trailer and heat production from the animals.
Without question, our producers go to great lengths to see to the health and welfare of their cattle in transport and to obey traffic laws and operate as safely as possible on the road. This time of year, it’s hot in most of cattle country and so you plan accordingly. If it’s hot outside you only stop when you have to and you keep those stops short. During that time you check on your cattle, you check on your truck and trailer to see if any repairs are needed, and you attend to any of your own personal needs.
But as of July 1, the federal government is going to require you to build in a mandatory 30-minute rest period to your travel plan — 30 minutes where you must sleep, and cannot check on your cattle. Again, it is priority for the U.S. beef industry to safely transport livestock from one location to the next and to make sure each of our producers understand and employ best management practices. Keep in mind, we are not hauling a load of grain or trailer of raw material goods, we are hauling live animals. Animals that need fresh and cooler air to avoid becoming heat stressed. Perhaps the bureaucrats that wrote this new rule have never been around a trailer full of livestock on a hot day. That trailer, just like this new rule, stinks.