Europe reviews cattle slaughter welfare issues

EFSA assessment identifies 40 welfare hazards that could occur during slaughter.

November 4, 2020

2 Min Read
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The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced Nov. 3 that it has published an assessment of the welfare of cattle at slaughter, based on the most up-to-date scientific studies and research.

In 2009, the European Union adopted Council Regulation No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, based on two scientific opinions adopted by EFSA, and in 2013, EFSA published another scientific opinion related to this subject.

Since 2005, the World Organization for Animal Health has developed two chapters in its Terrestrial Animal Health Code on animal slaughter and has created an ad hoc working group to revise these two chapters.

Against this background, the European Commission requested that EFSA write a scientific opinion providing an independent view on cattle slaughter.

This scientific opinion aims to update the aforementioned EFSA outputs by reviewing the most recent scientific publications and providing the European Commission with a sound, scientific basis for future discussions at international level on the welfare of cattle in the context of slaughter.

The slaughter of cattle for human consumption can take place in a slaughterhouse or on farm. The processes EFSA assessed for welfare, from the arrival of cattle until their death (including slaughter without stunning), were grouped into three main phases: pre‐stunning (including arrival, unloading from the truck, lairage, handling and moving of cattle), stunning (including restraint) and bleeding. Stunning methods were grouped into two categories: mechanical and electrical.

EFSA identified 12 welfare consequences to which cattle may be exposed during slaughter: heat stress, cold stress, fatigue, prolonged thirst, prolonged hunger, impeded movement, restriction of movements, resting problems (inability to rest or discomfort during rest), social stress, pain, fear and distress. Welfare consequences and their relevant animal‐based measures were described in the assessment.

The assessment identified and characterized a total of 40 welfare hazards that could occur during slaughter, most related to stunning and bleeding. EFSA found that 39 out of 40 were the result of staff not possessing the necessary skills or of staff fatigue.

The mandate also requested a list of unacceptable methods, procedures or practices that need to be analyzed in terms of the noted welfare aspects, as methods, procedures or practices cannot be subjected to a risk assessment procedure if no related scientific evidence has been published.

The opinion identified measures to prevent and correct hazards; structural and managerial measures were identified as those with a crucial role in prevention. For each process, EFSA developed outcome tables linking hazards, welfare consequences, animal‐based measures, origin of hazards and preventive and corrective measures. It additionally proposed mitigation measures to minimize welfare consequences. It was recommended that these practices should be avoided, redesigned or replaced by other practices, leading to better welfare outcomes.

The scientific opinion for cattle is the latest in a series on the welfare of animals at slaughter requested by the European Commission. It follows assessments covering poultry, rabbits and pigs.

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