New Directive on Slaughter

A new EU law governing slaughtering practices has been adopted. The new rules aim to further minimise suffering by animals at the time of slaughter and was triggered by the need to bring EU law into line with internationally agreed standards. It takes the form of a Council Regulation and came into force this month (December 2009).

The Regulation is designed to place more responsibility on private operators, and establish procedures for ensuring that killing equipment is up to standard.

Background

Council Directive 93/119/EC of 22 December 1993 established common minimum rules for the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing in the EU. This Directive has not been substantially amended since its adoption. The Commission believes that there have been discrepancies between Member States in implementing the Directive, which has raised concerns about both animal welfare and the competitiveness of some sectors.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) adopted the Terrestrial Animal Health Code in 2007, which included guidelines for the slaughter of animals and for the killing of animals for disease control purposes. These guidelines contain recommendations concerning the handling, restraining and stunning of animals in slaughterhouses, and the Commission felt that these international standards should also be taken into account in a new Regulation.

Aim of the Regulation

The aim of the Regulation is to increase animal welfare by introducing rules for the killing of animals for the production of food, wool, skin, fur or other products, as well as the killing of animals for the purpose of depopulation. These rules cover stunning methods, the use of restraining and stunning equipment, slaughterhouse procedure and the appointment of animal welfare officers. 

Exemptions

This Regulation does not, however, apply where animals are killed during scientific experiments carried out under the supervision of a competent authority, during hunting or recreational fishing, during cultural or sporting events, or to poultry, rabbits and hares slaughtered outside of a slaughterhouse by their owner for personal consumption.

Stunning

The Regulation states that animals can only be killed after stunning in accordance with the methods set out in Annex I. Loss of consciousness and sensibility must be maintained until the death of the animal. Annex I contains a list of the approved mechanical, electrical and gas methods, along with a description of the method, conditions for use and key parameters for each one. Operators must also ensure that regular checks are carried out to ensure that the animals do not present any signs of consciousness or sensibility in the period between the end of the stunning process and death. The Regulation states that these checks should be carried out on a sufficiently representative sample of animals.

Use of restraining and stunning equipment

Products marketed or advertised as restraining or stunning equipment can only be sold when accompanied by appropriate instructions that ensure optimal conditions for the welfare of animals. Those instructions must be made publicly available by manufacturers via the Internet. In particular, instructions must specify:

• the species, categories, quantities and/or weights of animals for which the equipment is intended to be used

• the recommended parameters corresponding to the different circumstances of use, including the key parameters set out in Annex I

• for stunning equipment, a method for monitoring the efficiency of the equipment as regards compliance with the rules laid down in this Regulation

• the recommendations for maintenance and, where necessary, calibration of the stunning equipment

Slaughterhouses

Operators must ensure that the layout and construction of slaughterhouses and the equipment used comply with the rules set out in Annex II of the Regulation. Operators must also, when requested, submit to the competent authority information regarding:

• the maximum number of animals per hour for each slaughter line

• the categories of animals and weights for which the restraining or stunning equipment available may be used

Operators must also ensure that the operational rules for slaughterhouses set out in Annex III are complied with. The following methods of restraint are prohibited:

• suspending or hoisting conscious animals
• mechanical clamping or tying of the legs or feet of animals
• severing the spinal cord, such as by the use of a puntilla or dagger
• the use of electric currents to immobilise the animal that do not stun or kill it under controlled circumstances, in particular, any electric current application that does not span the brain

Animal Welfare Officer

Operators must designate an animal welfare officer for each slaughterhouse to assist them in complying with this Regulation. The animal welfare officer is under the direct authority of the operator, but has the authority to require slaughterhouse personnel to carry out any remedial actions necessary to ensure compliance. The welfare officer also keeps a record of actions taken to improve animal welfare in the slaughterhouse.

The Regulation states that the health certificate accompanying meat imported from third countries must be supplemented by an attestation certifying that requirements at least equivalent to those laid down in Chapters II and III of this Regulation have been met.

Stricter National Rules

This Regulation does not prevent Member States from maintaining national rules that are more extensive in their protection of animals at the time of killing. Member States must inform the Commission about such national rules before 01 January 2013. 

Member States can also adopt stricter national rules in the following fields:

• the killing of animals outside of a slaughterhouse

• the slaughtering of farmed game including reindeer

• where, on the basis of new scientific evidence, a Member State deems it necessary to take measures aimed at ensuring more extensive protection of animals at the time of killing in relation to the methods of stunning

This Regulation entered into force 08 December and applies from 01 January 2013. Article 14 concerning the layout, construction and equipment of slaughterhouses will only apply to new slaughterhouses until 8 December 2019.