Animal welfare at slaughter

Introduction

Protecting animal welfare at slaughter is about minimising the pain, distress or suffering of farmed animals at the time of killing.

Staff at slaughterhouses must put a variety of procedures in place. For example, they must carry out regular checks to ensure that animals do not present any signs of consciousness or sensibility between the end of the stunning process and death. If animals are slaughtered without prior stunning, regular checks are needed to ensure that they do not show any signs of consciousness or sensibility before being released from restraint to undergo dressing or scalding.

The work of EFSA’s scientific experts contributes to better animal welfare at slaughterhouses in a number of ways. For example, they provide scientific advice on the indicators of consciousness or sensibility in animals or on studies on stunning methods.

EFSA supports national contact points in Member States by organising meetings where they can exchange experiences and share knowledge about welfare at the time of killing.

Milestones

June 2020 EFSA publishes a scientific opinion on welfare of pigs at slaughter. It identifies a number of hazards that give rise to welfare issues – such as heat stress, thirst, prolonged hunger and respiratory distress – and proposes preventive and corrective measures where possible. Experts conclude that most of the hazards related to welfare of pigs at slaughter are due to inadequate staff skills and poorly designed and constructed facilities.

January 2020 EFSA publishes three opinions related to welfare of rabbits. The first compares the welfare of rabbits farmed in different production systems in the EU, and concludes that the welfare of adult rabbits kept in conventional cage systems is worse than that of those housed in other systems. The two other opinions look at welfare issues associated with: stunning methods used in the slaughter process; and killing for reasons other than meat production (e.g. disease control).

2019 EFSA publishes two scientific opinions on the welfare of poultry at slaughter. The comprehensive overview covers the entire slaughter process from arrival and unloading of birds through stunning to bleeding and killing. It identifies a number of hazards that give rise to welfare issues – such as pain, thirst, hunger or restricted movement – and proposes preventive and corrective measures where possible.

2018 EFSA publishes guidance on criteria for assessing applications for new or modified stunning methods.

2017 EFSA experts examine issues surrounding the slaughter of pregnant farmed animals in the European Union. Their scientific opinion – which covers dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs, horses, sheep and goats – gives new insights into how many pregnant animals are slaughtered in the EU, the reasons why they are slaughtered and whether livestock foetuses can experience pain, distress or discomfort.

2013 EFSA publishes four scientific opinions on the welfare of cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry during the slaughter process. These opinions identify indicators of consciousness or sensibility in animals at slaughter. Examples of indicators are breathing or blinking, but indicators vary depending on the animal species and the stage of the slaughtering process.

Experts also give indications on how to calculate the number of animals to be checked during monitoring.

EU framework

EU legislation on the killing of animals aims to minimise the pain and suffering of animals through the use of properly applied stunning methods, based on scientific knowledge and practical experience. It applies to farmed animals.