Europe prepares for new slaughter welfare rules

New animal welfare requirements at time of slaughter should create a level playing field across Europe.

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Technical changes will apply to the construction, layout and equipment.
Technical changes will apply to the construction, layout and equipment.

European slaughterhouses will be faced with greater animal welfare responsibilities from January 1, 2013. The new Council Regulation, formally adopted at the end of September and which will also apply to slaughterhouses operating in third countries and exporting to the EU, will require operators to follow new welfare procedures and carry out greater monitoring.

While the EU already has legislation governing animal welfare at the time of slaughter - Directive 93/119/EC - it has been seen as being outdated. The new measures will implement a number of harmonized changes across the EU’s Member States and provide a level playing field across the Member States.

Degrees of change

Given the varying attitudes to welfare that exist across the EU’s Member States, and from company to company, the impact of this harmonization will vary from country to country and from slaughterhouse to slaughterhouse. Many of the new rules are, in practice, already in place in some countries through national legislation, or through voluntary measures implemented by the commercial sector.

In drawing up the new requirements, the Commission argued that, among problem areas were that there was a lack of harmonised methodology for new stunning methods, a lack of clear responsibilities for operators, and insufficiently competent personnel. It also noted that the level of animal protection was unequally enforced in Member States, with sometimes very unsatisfactory results.

From January 2013, operators will have to develop and follow standard operating procedures, as is already the case for food safety. They will be required to evaluate the efficacy of chosen stunning methods through animal based indicators, and stunned animals will have to be regularly monitored to ensure that they do not regain consciousness prior to slaughter.


Slaughterhouses will have to employ an animal welfare officer who will be accountable for implementing animal welfare measures and ensure compliance. The post is already a requirement in some countries, while in others it will be new. There will be a derogation for smaller operators, those processing less than 150,000 birds annually, and the post is additional to, and not a substitute for, official inspections.

Under the new Regulation, slaughterhouse staff handling animals will need to have a competence certificate for the welfare aspects of their tasks. Gaining this certificate will be through independent examination. Detail on what will be examined is expected to come from the competent national authority. Each Member State will have designate a competent authority with responsibility for approving training programmes and examinations.

Additionally, new independent scientific support will have to be made available to provide technical assistance for officials working in slaughterhouses, so that there are no difficulties in assessing complex stunning systems. This support will aid the authorities in slaughterhouse approval and the development of new stunning methods, provide opinions on the use of stunning equipment, produce guides to good practice and offer recommendations for inspections and audits.

A number of technical changes will concern the construction, layout and equipment of slaughterhouses, such as the lairage facilities or the electrical stunning equipment.

Waterbath stunning

The Council Regulation does not ban any major method of stunning presently in use. However, it limits the possibility to use certain methods. The new legislation does not ban the use of the electric waterbath for poultry. In the case of the waterbath for poultry, alternatives exist (use of gas) but are presently not developed for the small or medium sized slaughterhouses.

The scope of stunning and killing methods becomes more strictly defined, however, and minimum electrical parameters have been laid down. Waterbath stunning will have to be performed in accordance with a list of minimum currents depending on the frequency applied and birds will have to be exposed to that current for a minimum duration of four seconds.

CAS stunning

Controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) systems are now covered by the Regulation and will be officially permitted in all Member States. The use of several gas mixes is permitted. For CO2 stunning processors will have to ensure that birds are rendered unconscious before the CO2 concentration exceeds 40 percent.

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

Level playing field

While the new regulations should help to create a level playing field, and give national governments a body of legislation to refer to creating greater certainty, not all aspects of the changes have been welcomed.

For example, there are fears that fixing a minimum current and frequency will lead to an escalation in carcass damage and a consequent increase in downgraded and rejected meat and parts of birds, especially turkeys.

Slaughterhouses in third countries exporting meat to the EU will be expected to comply with similar standards to those in the regulation. The standard of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) will be taken into account when assessing equivalency.

While the aim of the new rules is to create a level playing field, there will be some flexibility. For example the requirement to appoint an Animal Welfare Officer will not be obligatory for small slaughterhouses. Other measures will have a transitional period. This is the case for the standards applicable to the design of fixed equipment in slaughterhouses and for the implementation of the slaughterhouse competence certificate.

The regulations will require manufacturers of stunning equipment to provide instructions on the use of their equipment, on how to monitor their efficacy, and on how to keep them in order.
Many producers of such equipment developed their products with animal welfare in mind and manuals already exist. However, the change in legislation will mean that a body of scientific evidence will need to be collected before any new equipment is brought to market.


The new regulations will also cover the large scale culling of animals as a tool to control disease outbreaks. The regulation aims to make the competent authority performing such killing more accountable to the public regarding the welfare of animals culled.

In particular, the regulation provides for better planning, supervision and reporting. Use of animal welfare unfriendly methods of killing will no longer be allowed except under exceptional circumstances.

The maceration of male day-old chicks is also covered by the new rules, with parameters set out including maximum batch size to be introduced, distance between blades and speed of rotation, and measures to prevent overloading. Death is instantaneous, even when large numbers of chicks are being handled.

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