At the time of killing, animals are not always stunned. In case where stunning does take place, this is not always done effectively.

This implies that animals can still be conscious when bleeding starts. Despite the fact that pre-slaughter stunning is mandatory under Regulation 1099/2009/EU, a derogation is foreseen for slaughter carried out according to certain religious prescriptions.

This type of slaughter, along with the use of ineffective stunning methods, are currently the major drivers of animal suffering in slaughterhouses in Europe. For instance, in the case of electrical water baths used for stunning poultry, birds may miss the electrified water bath completely or partially. Animals can lift their heads before entering the water, or there can be difficulties in achieving the suitable amperage for every single bird entering the water bath.

Certain stunning methods do not induce instantaneous and painless unconsciousness. For instance, high concentration CO2 stunning causes pain and distress for pigs from first exposure to the gas to loss of consciousness, which can take up a minute to occur, yet it is used in the majority of large EU pig slaughterhouses as it allows for faster operations and more uniform meat quality. Footage of the suffering inflicted during this stunning procedure released by animal advocacy organisations has sparked outrage in the EU and internationally.

Additionally, staff training and skill level play a crucial role in determining animal welfare at slaughter. The EFSA recently identified a vast range of welfare problems occurring in poultry and rabbits at slaughter that are associated to skill level, as well as the level of attention of the people performing the slaughtering.

What does the public think?

The 2016 special Eurobarometer on animal welfare showed that 94% of EU citizens think protecting the welfare of farmed animals is important, and 82% think they should be better protected by the EU than they are now.

Slaughter practices have been subject to increased scrutiny by  EU citizens as part of a broader trend towards flexitarian, reducetarian, vegetarian and plant-based dietary choices and the availability of alternatives to meat.  

No recent EU-wide polling is available on the issue of animal slaughter, but polls in the UK and Belgium – the latter funded by GAIA – have shown broad support for a ban on slaughter without stunning, even among religious communities.  

Policy – current state of play

Regulation 1099/2009/EC on the protection of animals at the time of killing – the EU Slaughter Regulation – started to apply on 1 January 2013. Although the Regulation recognises that CO2 stunning of pigs is not animal welfare friendly, it also indicates that economically viable alternatives did not exist at the time.  Research into these alternatives is urgently needed.

As for the general conditions in slaughterhouses, they are always sufficiently monitored and the regulations are not always enforced. 

Eurogroup for Animals

Eurogroup for Animals will push for a revision of the Slaughter Regulation to include alternative stunning methods for pigs and poultry, introduce species-specific rules on effective stunning in aquaculture, and remove the derogation to mandatory stunning. We will engage with religious communities to share best practices and work towards the acceptance of reversible stunning.

Finally, to ensure animal welfare and prevent cruelty, we will push for mandatory CCTV in all EU and EU-certified slaughterhouses, and for guidelines for equine slaughter.