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Abattoir rules revisited - 19/09/2008

Cows peer out of a cattle van

EU proposal on animal protection calls for changes in the way slaughterhouses kill cattle, pigs, poultry and other livestock.

Under the new rules, abattoirs would have to monitor animals after stunning to ensure they don’t wake up before they are killed.

Every year nearly 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle and several billion poultry are killed for their meat in the EU. A further 25 million animals are killed for their fur, and hatcheries kill around 330 million day-old male chicks. And bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease have forced the culling of millions of other animals in recent years.

Slaughterhouses are required to stun livestock before slaughter to minimise pain and distress. But the rules for how this is done have not changed since 1993 and are now out of sync with science, technology and animal welfare concerns.

Stunning involves using electricity, gas or force (such as an air gun) to knock the animal out. No method is 100% efficient, and some animals regain consciousness in their last minutes before death.

The proposal doesn’t ban any current stunning method, but limits the use of some techniques. It acknowledges that scientists have reservations about the humaneness of two methods -- carbon dioxide gassing and electrified water baths -- but notes the lack of commercial alternatives.

Also under the proposal:

  • slaughterhouses would have an animal welfare officer on their staff
  • workers would be properly trained and periodically certified in animal welfare
  • manufacturers would provide instructions on how to use stunning equipment efficiently
  • slaughterhouses would be designed with animal welfare in mind
  • national centres of reference would be created to help officials responsible for inspecting slaughterhouses. Inspectors often have trouble assessing the efficiency of complex stunning systems
  • authorities would have to be more accountable to the public. Many people were upset by the wholesale slaughter of livestock during the foot-and-mouth epidemic. The disease doesn’t harm humans and rarely kills animals.


The measures require the approval of all 27 national governments within the EU. Slaughterhouses in non-EU countries exporting to the EU would have to comply with similar standards.

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