Most of the hazards related to the welfare of pigs at slaughter are due to inadequate staff skills and poorly designed and constructed facilities, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which just published a new scientific opinion on the welfare of animals during the slaughter process.
EFSA called the findings on the lack of skills and/or staff training "a serious welfare concern."
The European Commission requested the scientific opinion as part of a series of updated assessments on animal welfare at slaughter.
The new "Scientific Opinion on Welfare of Pigs at Slaughter" proposes measures to address the welfare hazards most commonly associated with the slaughter of pigs for food production and follows similar opinions on poultry and rabbits, EFSA said. A further opinion on cattle will follow later this year.
EFSA chief scientist Marta Hugas said, “As part of its new 'Farm to Fork' strategy, the European Commission is reviewing current provisions on animal welfare with the aim of creating a more sustainable food system in the European Union. This series of opinions, plus others that we will deliver in the next few years, will provide the scientific basis for that review.
“Having high standards of animal welfare improves animal health and food quality, reduces the need for medication and can help preserve biodiversity. Healthy, well looked-after animals are essential to a healthy food chain,” Hugas said.
The comprehensive overview on pigs covers the slaughter process from arrival and unloading of pigs through stunning to bleeding and killing, EFSA explained, noting that the report 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.
As with the previous opinion on poultry, EFSA said most of the hazards — 29 out of 30 identified — are the consequence of staff failings due to factors such as lack of training and fatigue. Preventive measures can be put in place for all the hazards, EFSA said, with site management identified as having a crucial role to play in prevention.
The scientific opinions on slaughter are based on the latest available scientific knowledge and are being developed in consultation with animal welfare experts from EU member states, the agency said.
The findings will be used by the European Commission in discussions with the World Organization on Animal Health aimed at aligning approaches to animal welfare at slaughter.