The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mail delays in the United States has brought attention to the serious animal welfare issues inherent in the practice of shipping live animals in the mail. In August, the Washington Post reported large numbers of shipped animals dying due to USPS delays, including 4,800 chicks delivered dead in Maine.
These reports largely frame these deaths as business losses, and more generally, as one example of how the pandemic is hurting Americans financially. But these unnecessary deaths also shine a light on the impossibility of ensuring the welfare of animals who are shipped in the mail and treated like any other piece of mail. While larger numbers of animals are dying because of delays, suffering and death are a routine part of live animal shipments.
For those unfamiliar with live animal shipping, it may be surprising to learn how widespread this practice is and how few regulations there are that serve to protect the animals themselves. Small animals such as reptiles, insects and day-old hatchling birds are frequently shipped for farms, research or the pet trade. Animals shipped via USPS must not require food, water or attention during transit, and while they must be labeled as live animals, there is no requirement that they be handled in any different manner due to their contents.
The organization Farm Sanctuary has been campaigning to end this practice for years, with a particular focus on the routine mailing of day-old chicks for farming purposes, who may be in transit up to 72 hours, with no food or water and no temperature control. Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary’s President and Co-founder, says “It is shocking that living animals are treated like cargo and shipped in the mail.”
Farm Sanctuary has focused their attention on USPS, which Baur reports is “because they are the most common shipper of animals, and they should be more accountable to the public than privately owned companies.” While the number of animals shipped via USPS isn’t made publicly available, we do know that they ship millions of live birds per year. UPS also allows shipments of live animals, and while neither FedEx or DHL routinely ship live animals, they will under certain conditions.
Live animal shipping is one more example, of many, that illustrates the cruelty of treating animals as commodities. As Baur states, “some are expected to die in the process.” This is framed as an expected loss of revenue, a small cost incurred in the course of doing business. USPS clearly lays out their guidelines for when an “indemnity claim for damage, partial loss, and loss of insured shipments” will be accepted, meaning that they will reimburse for injury or death of animals when USPS was at fault, and business owners who ship animals expect a certain percent of their shipments will be DOA (dead on arrival). The disregard for animal suffering could not be more blatant, nor could it be more obvious that the lives of animals are only seen in terms of their monetary value.
Farm Sanctuary ran a petition to the Postmaster General to stop live animal shipments back in September, but so far there are no signs that the practice will come to an end soon. As for why it has been so hard to make change on this issue, Baur cites the unwillingness of politicians to stand up to business: “Like many other forms of animal exploitation and abuse, shipping animals via USPS has become an entrenched practice, and politicians have been hesitant to challenge entrenched business interests.”
Featured image: two mailboxes. Image credit Moosealope, CC BY-SA 2.0.