Pig Welfare At Slaughter: An International Review
The concept of animal welfare is a contentious one for many animal advocates depending on their ideological position. But among the general public, the concept has come to provide a lens through which to understand animal issues. While a large percentage of the general public may eat animal products, they don’t want animals to be badly treated while they are alive or even during slaughter. At slaughter, “good welfare” includes ensuring that animals are comfortable during transport to the slaughterhouse, receive enough rest during transport, are fully stunned (i.e., unconscious) before slaughter, and are sacrificed using the most humane slaughter method. In parts of the E.U., the Welfare Quality® (WQ) program has established a set of protocols for guiding and measuring the welfare of farmed animals, both on the farm and at slaughter. However, due to a lack of studies exploring pig welfare in slaughterhouses, a proper scoring scale and WQ assessment for pigs doesn’t yet exist (at press time).
This study was a response to this lack of standard measures for pig welfare at slaughter. The study authors outline their reasons for defining these measures in simple mathematical terms:
If Slaughterhouse A has 20% of animals affected by Parameter X for years, the manager can defend that this is impossible to be reduced. Nevertheless, if when compared with other slaughterhouses there are some where the percentage is 2%, it means that 20% can actually be reduced.
To complete their study, the researchers applied the WQ protocol to 8 Portuguese, 9 Italian and 5 Finnish pig slaughterhouses during the summer and autumn of 2014; to 10 Brazilian pig slaughterhouses during the summer and winter of 2009; and to 10 Spanish slaughterhouses during the spring and summer of 2007. They found that pigs are “severely stressed during loading, transport and unloading,” and that while “198 out 245 (81%) and 222 out 245 (91%) of the lorries arrived with no sick or dead animals at the slaughterhouse,” 19% and 9%, respectively, did.
They also found that between 0% and 90% of stunned animals showed signs of regaining consciousness prior to slaughter, an unacceptably broad range that warrants cause for great concern. At 27 of the 42 slaughterhouses assessed, over 10% of stunned animals recovered before slaughter. in light of these results, the researchers note that CO2 stunning is a more effective stunning method than electric shock. For animal advocates, the study will either provide evidence to support the implementation of more welfare-friendly slaughter methods, or it will provide evidence that an abolitionist approach is necessary.