Intergroup meeting: Animal Welfare at the time of slaughter

On 15/03/2018, in All posts, by Animal Welfare Intergroup

The Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals met today to discuss the welfare of animals at the time of slaughter. The presenters outlined some of the persisting problems and highlighted opportunities for better enforcement of existing EU legislation and for initiatives that can eventually lead to an improvement of legislation, both at national and EU level.

The meeting was chaired by Keith Taylor MEP (Greens/EFA – United Kingdom), Vice-President of the Intergroup. Florent Marcellesi MEP (Greens/EFA, Spain) opened the floor and introduced the topic. He stressed the importance of continuing to question the practice of slaughter without stunning, both for religious reasons and in bullfighting.

Virginia Iniesta, the vice-president of AVATMA, the Spanish association of veterinarians against bullfighting and animal abuse, gave a presentation on “Slaughter of animals without prior stunning”. European legislation requires that all animals killed for human consumption should be unconscious at the time of death to prevent avoidable suffering. However, legal exceptions are allowed based on the cultural traditions or religious rites of certain population groups. According to some interpretations, stunned animals could be deemed unfit for religious purpose. However, different schools of thought within the same religious groups argue that some methods of stunning are perfectly acceptable and compatible with religious prescriptions.  She added that several European countries have already completely prohibited the slaughter of animals without stunning. By contrast, in other countries this practice is becoming the norm due to commercial and industrial interests in the meat sector and despite the fact that the exception from stunning is only supposed to happen for religious and cultural practices. Consumers are not informed about the method of slaughter due to the lack of clear labelling and are consequently deprived of their right to choose.

Slaughter without stunning is also practiced in bullfighting, using the exception based on cultural traditions. During the bullfight, the use of several instruments causes deep wounds, significant bleeding, intense suffering and painful death. Virginia Iniesta concluded: “It is unacceptable that in an advanced society legal exceptions still exist that cause suffering to animals where it could be avoided.”

In the second presentation Brigitte Gothière, co-founder of  L214 Ethics and Animals, highlighted the severe animal welfare problems in French slaughterhouses and their political answers. The current situation in France is characterized by a shortage of staff, inadequate training, non-dissuasive sanctions and an insufficient frequency of checks by the competent authorities. The veterinary staff is also insufficiently present. Already in 2014, the French Court of Auditors pointed to serious violations of the law. The French government recognised the shortcomings of animal protection at the slaughterhouses and the breaches of EU regulation but argued that the European standards are too high.

L214 investigations in slaughterhouses showed several breaches of EU laws. One of the key issue concerned inefficient stunning: problems with the stun gun, use of CO2 (which causes severe distress) and issues with the immobilisation equipment or process. In one of the slaughterhouses investigated, the preliminary inquest by the police recorded 195 breaches of the law in a single week. The lack of staff and the shortcomings of the equipment used were also demonstrated. Brigitte Gothière explained, “The French authorities ended up recognising that there really is a general problem in abattoirs in France”. The Minister of Agriculture ordered an official inquiry in all abattoirs and 80% were found to be in breach of law. A parliamentary committee of inquiry ended up with a draft law.

The presentations were followed by a lively debate on the priorities and potential actions. During the event, experts and politicians discussed the various possible solutions and initiatives, such as CCTV in abattoirs, the labelling of meat obtained from non-stunned animals, and the use of compulsory reversible stunning for all animals killed with religious methods.

Florent Marcellesi concluded that “Animal protection and welfare should always be above any cultural, religious, artistic or economic considerations. The slaughter without stunning is a totally unethical and scientifically unjustified practice which creates unacceptable suffering for animals during slaughter. For this reason, all EU Member States should follow the example of Sweden, Denmark or Switzerland and stop the practice of slaughter without stunning. There are acceptable alternatives that can be applied and the Animal Welfare Intergroup will address this with the European Commission.”

Keith Taylor, who closed the meeting, said that “EU legislation calls for the mandatory stunning of animals before slaughter but allows unacceptable derogations to this rule. There is also evidence of increasing failures in slaughterhouses to observe the basic requirements of the EU Slaughter Regulation. This lack of enforcement needs to be better monitored and controlled so as to ensure more humane slaughter conditions.”


For more background information on problems relating to animal welfare at slaughter, click here >> Background Information




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