For too long livestock transport operators have been the only link in the supply chain expected to be managing livestock effluent in transit and keep it off the road. For the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association, the issue has been a top priority issue to be addressed.
While drivers have been regularly fined for effluent load restraint infringements, others in the supply chain have avoided responsibility for compliance with road safety and environment regulations. But all that is about to change, says the ALRTA.
In December 2022 the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) registered an industry code of practice called ‘Managing effluent in the livestock supply chain’ or the ‘Effluent Code’.
Sponsored by the ALRTA, the Effluent Code provides practical guidance, to parties in the livestock supply chain who influence or control heavy vehicle transport activities, to help minimise effluent spillage into the road network.
Importantly, the Code makes it clear that managing effluent in transit is the responsibility of everyone in the livestock supply chain.
With guidance from an NHVR Code Advisor, the Code was developed by an industry working group. Organisations involved included producer groups, livestock transporters, sale-yard managers, feedlot managers, processors, government departments, enforcement bodies and animal welfare advocates. This group identified the activities involved in livestock transport and proposed relevant best practice controls to eliminate or minimise effluent loss in transit.
Of course, effluent is an unavoidable by-product when livestock are transported by road. Did you know that cattle can defecate 12 to 16 times a day, and sheep can lose around 4 per cent of their live weight as effluent in a 24 hour period?
The factors that affect livestock effluent production include the species and condition of the livestock, its access to water, feeding pattern and stress levels prior to loading, climate and weather conditions, and the length and characteristics of the journey. Though transporters are aware of these factors, they can only control some of them. Transporters rely on other parties to prepare livestock for transport, provide accurate information and assist with the disposal of livestock effluent produced during the journey.
Modern livestock trailers are designed with ventilation and non-slip floors to provide for animal welfare and keep valuable livestock safe and in good condition. Transporters who travel through urban centres generally have effluent capture tanks installed on their trailers, but these have limited capacity.
Some effluent spillages have little impact on remote or rural roads, but with increasing urbanisation effluent spillage has a greater effect on the safety and amenity of road users and of residents in local communities. Impacts could include the risk of a vehicle (particularly a bicycle or motorbike) slipping and losing control.
While road safety is the primary focus of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, there are many other reasons for the livestock supply chain to be proactive when it comes to managing effluent in transit.
For example, biosecurity is one of the biggest risks to domestic livestock production. An incursion of foot and mouth disease (FMD) would devastate our market access costing the nation up to $80b over 10 years. Like many other diseases, parasites, pests and weeds, it can be spread via livestock effluent.
The livestock industry’s social licence may also be tested by effluent spillage in the road corridor. Large or repeated spills near towns or urban areas can harm the reputation of the whole of the livestock supply chain. Food culture in Australia increasingly focuses on ‘paddock-to-plate’ marketing, and transport is a critical element of that narrative.
And of course, effluent can become a significant animal welfare issue if containment within a livestock trailer becomes the only option.
Transporting livestock is a very challenging job and the people who work in the industry are passionate about it. Like many involved in heavy vehicle transport, livestock carriers would appreciate better recognition and understanding of their role and skills, as well as better roads and better facilities, like rest areas with toilets, improved access to showers and healthy food options for drivers, and truck washes and effluent disposal facilities, for livestock transport vehicles.
Transport operators and drivers love the lifestyle, they’re proud of their trucks and they care about the welfare of the animals that they move daily from farms, feedlots and sale-yards to farms, feedlots, sale-yards and processors. Of course, there are elements of the job that are frustrating, and one of these is managing livestock effluent in transit when you have limited options for its containment and disposal.
Managing livestock effluent during road transport is a whole of supply chain responsibility. That’s why the Effluent Code includes information for off-road parties about the things that they can do to help minimise effluent loss. By working together, to eliminate or minimise livestock effluent spillage we can improve road safety, animal welfare and biosecurity outcomes, protect the environment and support the sustainability of the livestock industry.
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