EFSA recommends conditions and methods for effective stunning and killing of animals to avoid pain and minimise suffering

The Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued an opinion relating to the welfare aspects of stunning and killing for the main animal species subject to commercial and farm slaughtering practices. The AHAW panel recommends that conditions and methods of stunning and killing most appropriate with respect to animal welfare should be selected for each species. Stun/killing methods which induce unconsciousness and death, either immediately or sequentially, should be preferred, wherever possible, in order to avoid pain and minimise animal suffering. Scientific experts highlight the importance of appropriate training for operators and call for further investigations of the mechanisms and effects of the different stunning methods.

The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) published an opinion relating to the welfare aspects of stunning and killing for animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, horses and farmed fish. Based on the data of the scientific report carried out by experts appointed by EFSA, the opinion is a scientific assessment of the welfare of animals during stunning and killing under commercial slaughterhouse and farm conditions. The AHAW Panel did not consider ethical, socioeconomic, cultural or religious issues in drafting its opinion.

Stunning before slaughter is a legal requirement in the EU, with exceptions in some Member States for religious slaughter. By inducing unconsciousness and insensibility, stunning can avoid and minimise reactions of fear and anxiety as well as pain, suffering and distress among the animals concerned.

Stunning methods induce temporary loss of consciousness and rely on prompt and accurate sticking procedures to cause death. The Panel recommends the adoption of procedures appropriate to the animals concerned and the conditions to be respected so that unconsciousness and insensibility are induced and poor welfare is minimised. The duration of unconsciousness and insensibility varies between methods, species and animals.

Scientific experts recommend the use of stun/killing methods which induce unconsciousness and death either immediately or sequentially. These methods should be favoured wherever they are available and have proven to be effective as they do not rely on bleeding to cause death.

It is important that the equipment utilised for stunning and slaughter is maintained in good working condition and that all operators involved are well trained and have a positive attitude towards the welfare of animals.

Advantages and disadvantages of some methods such as captive bolt, gas stunning and electrical stunning were evaluated by the Panel for various species and described in the opinion. The Panel advised that there is no ideal method for stunning and killing of farm animals for commercial slaughter or disease control purposes. It is therefore necessary to select those applications which offer the greatest benefit for animal welfare.

Finally, the Panel concluded that there is an urgent need for further detailed investigations of the mechanisms and effects of the different stunning and stun/killing methods as well as their technical and organisational performance in practice. In addition, continued and improved training of operators involved in animal slaughtering is critical for animal welfare.

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