EU Proposes Greater Welfare in Slaughterhouses

EU - The European Commission on Thursday proposed tougher rules for slaughterhouses to ensure that farm animals "are humanely treated" before they are killed.
calendar icon 19 September 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

To simplify the existing legislation and bring it into line with food hygiene regulations, the proposal integrates welfare considerations into the design of slaughterhouses and requires the regular monitoring of the efficiency of stunning techniques. Slaughterhouses must appoint a specific person responsible for animal welfare and ensure that their staff is properly trained and certified. Manufacturers of stunning equipment will have to provide instructions for ensuring proper animal welfare and a number of technical standards are updated in view of scientific progress.

Member States will have to create research based centres to provide permanent and competent support to official inspectors. The competent authorities will also be more accountable to the public when they perform mass killings in case of contagious diseases.

Every year, nearly 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle as well as several billion poultry are killed in EU slaughterhouses for their meat. In addition, about 25 million animals are killed for their fur. The control of contagious diseases may also require the culling of thousands to millions of other animals.

Commissioner for Health, Androulla Vassiliou said: “As a society we have a duty of care to animals, which includes minimising distress and avoiding pain throughout the slaughtering process. The current EU rules are outdated and need revision. This proposal will make a real difference to the way animals are treated at the time of slaughter, as well as promoting innovation and providing a level playing field for operators."

One specialist in the manufacture of slaughter equipment, Clive Scrivens from the UK company Accles and Shelvoke welcomed the changes to the regulation, which he said would help to tighten up some loopholes in the industry.

He said that most reputable manufacturers went beyond the guidelines issued by organisations such as the Humane Slaughter Association, but teh new regulations will help.

"They are mainly aimed at the meat plants and the way they handle animals. That's the issue," said Mr Scrivens.

"The will help to clear up ambiguities over handling and welfare."

Taking ownership of animal welfare

Each operator will have to develop and implement standard operating procedures for ensuring proper welfare standards in a reliable way. Such a methodology is not new for slaughterhouses as it is already required and in place for food safety (the so-called Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point or HACCP system). Requiring standardized procedures for animal welfare is an innovation of this proposal.

As part of this, the proposal will require operators to evaluate the efficiency of their stunning methods through animal based indicators. After stunning animals will have to be regularly monitored to ensure they do not regain consciousness before slaughter.

In addition, each slaughterhouse will have to appoint an Animal Welfare Officer who will be accountable for implementing the animal welfare measures. Small slaughterhouses will benefit from a derogation from this requirement.

Furthermore, the proposal requires manufacturers of stunning equipment to provide instructions for the use of their equipment, on how to monitor their efficiency and keep them in good working order.

More competent personnel

The proposal requires staff handling animals in slaughterhouses to possess a certificate of competence regarding the welfare aspects of their tasks. The certificate will be valid for a maximum of 5 years and submitted to independent examination by accredited bodies.

The proposal also aims at creating national centres of reference on animal welfare in order to provide technical support for officials working in slaughterhouses. Although there are some research centres in many Member States, the results of their work and their technical competence is not sufficiently available to official inspectors.

Killing for disease control

The proposal aims at making the competent authority performing killings for disease control purposes (such as avian influenza or foot and mouth disease) more accountable to the public as regards the welfare of the animals sacrificed. In particular, the proposal will require better planning, supervision and reporting.

Updated standards

Lists of stunning methods will be more strictly defined and requirements for each method will be updated to reflect the most recent scientific opinions and take into account socio-economic considerations. A number of technical changes will also affect the construction, layout and equipment of slaughterhouses.

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