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Slaughter & Stunning

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

In 2009 the Union adopted a new regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing which replaced the previous EU legislation on the issue. It applies from 1 January 2013.

1. What is new in this regulation?

EU legislation to protect animals at the time of killing already existed (Directive 93/119/EC) but was outdated in many respects. The new regulation contains several important changes:

  • It is a regulation:
    • This means that it is directly applicable, with no delays and no room for distortions. It applies from 1st January 2013. It facilitates a harmonised application in the EU and provides a level playing field for the operators concerned.
  • Increased operator responsibility:
    • Each operator has to know what they are doing through the use of a standard operating procedure. Such methodology is not new for slaughterhouses as it is already required and in place for food safety (the so-called HACCP system = Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). But it is new to require standardized procedures for animal welfare.
    • Operators are required to evaluate the efficiency of their stunning method through animal based indicators. As a consequence, stunned animals have to be regularly monitored to ensure that they do not regain consciousness before slaughter.
    • Each slaughterhouse has to appoint an Animal Welfare Officer who is accountable for implementing the animal welfare measures. This does not replace the official inspection and there is derogation for small slaughterhouses.
    • Furthermore, the regulation requires manufacturers of stunning equipment to provide instructions on the use of their equipment, on how to monitor their efficiency and keep them in order.
  • Training and research on animal welfare:
    • The regulation requires staff handling animals in slaughterhouses to possess a certificate of competence regarding the welfare aspects of their tasks. The obtention of the certificate is submitted to independent examination by bodies recognised by the competent authority.
    • The regulation also aims at scientific support animal welfare to provide technical assistance for officials working in slaughterhouses. Although there have been some research centres in many Member States, the results of their research and their technical competence were not sufficiently available to official inspectors. As a result, inspectors had often difficulties in assessing complex stunning systems. The regulation remedies this important issue.
  • New requirements for killing for disease control purposes
    • Culling animals on a large scale is sometimes the only tool to control highly contagious diseases (such as avian influenza or foot and mouth disease). As this affects public spending (and often the Union budget), the regulation aims at making the competent authority performing such killing more accountable to the public regarding the welfare of the animals culled. In particular, the regulation provides for better planning, supervision and reporting. Use of animal welfare unfriendly methods of killing is no longer allowed except under exceptional circumstances (such as to protect human health or in case of an uncontrollable animal disease).
  • Updated standards
    • The regulation introduces many technical changes. For example, the scope of stunning or killing methods is more strictly defined, and minimum electrical parameters are provided.
    • A number of technical changes concerns the construction, layout and equipment of slaughterhouses such as the lairage facilities or the electrical stunning equipment.

2. Does the regulation affect all slaughtered animals in the EU?

No, but the large majority of them are covered.

The regulation concerns the killing of animals in slaughterhouses as well as those kept for farming purposes. This includes the killing of fur animals, of male day-old chicks (of laying hens breeds) or other killing taking place in farms. In particular it concerns the killing for disease control purposes (as occurred, for example, in the UK for the control of Foot and Mouth Disease).

Animals killed due to, or following, scientific experiments are covered by a specific Directive.

Animals killed under other circumstances (hunting, bullfighting, stray dogs or cats in shelters, animals in the wild, etc.) are not part of the scope of this regulation. Those areas are covered by national legislation and Union competences are either limited (hunting) or excluded.

3. How many animals are concerned?

(based on data collected before adoption in 2009)

Every year nearly 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle as well as several billion poultry are killed in EU slaughterhouses.

The European fur industry adds another 25 million animals to the figure.

Hatcheries kill around 330 millions day-old-chicks.

The control of contagious diseases may also require the killing of thousands to millions of animals.

4. Does this regulation apply for third countries? How?

Yes, just as before 2013.

The regulation requires slaughterhouses in third countries exporting meat to the EU to comply with similar standards to those in the regulation. The standard of the World Organisation for Animal Health is taken into account when assessing equivalency between the standards implemented in third countries and the ones of the Community.

5. Does the regulation generate costs for companies? For Member States?

The Commission has performed an extensive impact assessment in order to evaluate the extent to which the measures envisaged in the initial proposal will affect companies and the Member States. This impact assessment is publicly available (see background of the regulation).

This impact assessment is based on a specific socio-economic study carried out by an external consultant. In addition, this initial Commission proposal has taken into consideration a large consultation of all stakeholders and has been designed to minimize the possible costs.

For example, the requirement to appoint an Animal Welfare Officer is not obligatory for small slaughterhouses as such a measure would not have been proportionate to the problem (proper coordination on animal welfare is not actually an issue in a small establishment). Other measures have been granted a transitional period for implementation to allow operators or Member States to adapt progressively. This is the case for the standards applicable to the design and fixed equipment of slaughterhouses and for the implementation of the certificate of competence applicable to staff in slaughterhouses.

However it should be underlined that a number of measures were already applied by some companies (on a voluntary basis) or by some Member States (as national legislation).

6. Does the regulation ban some stunning methods?

The regulation does not ban any major method of stunning presently in use. However, it limits the possibility to use certain methods.

The new regulation does not ban the use of the waterbath stunner for poultry despite its welfare disadvantages.

The use of carbon dioxide will be still permitted in certain cases despite the scientists’ opinion on its aversiveness for animals. However the use of carbon dioxide over 40% is not permitted for stunning poultry in slaughterhouses.

The reason for maintaining the possibility to use those methods of stunning is the lack of practical alternatives under certain conditions.

In the case of the waterbath for poultry, alternatives exist (use of gas) but are presently not developed for the small or medium size slaughterhouses, which represent a very important number of establishments in Europe.

The regulation foresees that the Commission will present a report on the possible alternative for stunning poultry at the latest four years after the entry into force of the regulation.

Similarly the use of carbon dioxide can not be rejected at present as there is no commercially viable alternative for certain species like pig or fur animals. In addition, it is a still an important technique for the mass killing of poultry.


The Commission adopted on 19 December 2013 a report on various stunning methods for poultry as foreseen in Article 27 (3) of Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing.

The Commission mandated in 2013 a study to provide information to consumers on the stunning of animals.