PART TWO: THE KILLING BUSINESS
The Death Toll
The number of animals killed for food worldwide in 1998 was
43.2 billion (2).
290 million cattle, buffalo and calves
1.1 billion pigs
802 million sheep and goats
41.1 billion chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese
The total number of animals killed for food in UK slaughterhouses
was 883.319 million in 1998 (excludes cattle slaughtered under
Over Thirty Months Scheme, Calf Processing Aid Scheme &
selective cull). This included:
2.3 million cattle
18.7 million sheep
16.3 million pigs
792 million broiler chickens
35 million turkeys
18 million ducks
1 million geese
TOTAL = 883.319 MILLION (3)
Number of animals killed per second in the UK = 28
Number of animals killed per minute in the UK = 1,700
Number of animals killed per hour in the UK = 100,000
Number of animals killed per day in the UK = 2.4 million
Number of animals killed per week in the UK = 17 million
How many slaughterhouses?
According to MAFF there were 567 licensed slaughterhouses
operating in the UK in March 2000.
Number of licensed slaughterhouses in:
England - 453
Scotland - 55
Wales - 45
Northern Ireland - 29
Welfare in slaughterhouses is governed by The Welfare of
Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995. The legislation
implements EC Council Directive 93/119/EC on the Protection
of Animals at the Time of Slaughter or Killing. It is supplemented
by three MAFF 'pocket guides' which highlight basic aspects
of the law.
UK legislation: key points
- Care should be taken not to frighten, excite or mistreat
animals which are not delivered in containers. Animals should
not be lifted or dragged by the head, horns, ears, feet,
tail, fleece, 'or any other part of its body in such a way
as to cause it unnecessary pain or suffering.'
- Animals should not be led or driven over any ground or
floor which may cause the animal to slip or fall.
- Nobody should strike, or apply pressure to, any particularly
sensitive part of the body of any animal. Nobody is allowed
to crush, twist or break the tail of any animal or grasp
the eyes of any animal. Nobody is allowed to hit or kick
- An animal should not be stunned, slaughtered or killed
unless restrained 'in an appropriate manner in such a way
as to spare it any avoidable pain, suffering, agitation,
injury or contusions'.
- Animals must be stunned before they are killed (unless
killed by religious methods) and the stun must cause an
immediate loss of consciousness which lasts until death.
- In England and Wales, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs should
not be bled out within sight of each other.
- Bleeding out should be 'rapid, profuse and complete',
should be completed before an animal regains consciousness
and should be carried out by severing at least one of the
carotid arteries or the vessels from which they arise.
Once an animal's throat has been cut, no 'dressing procedures'
should be carried out for specified lengths of time: Turkeys
& geese - not less than 2 minutes; Other birds - not less
than 90 seconds; Cattle - not less than 30 seconds; Sheep,
goats, pigs and deer - not less than 20 seconds. (5)
In 1995, the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) took over responsibility
from local authorities for enforcing slaughter and hygiene
regulations in abattoirs. Originally, the MHS was an executive
agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food
(MAFF). It is now an executive agency of the newly established
Food Standards Agency.
Abattoirs are inspected by Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVSs),
Meat Hygiene Inspectors (MHIs) and meat technicians. OVSs
are supervised by Principal OVSs (POVSs) who are responsible
to the six regional directors of the MHS. Regional directors
are responsible to the director of operations at the MHS headquarters
in York. (6)
The OVS is responsible for the enforcement of the Welfare
of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995. S/he is
supposed to fill in and file a daily animal welfare report
and also submit a monthly welfare report to the MHS Regional
Office. However, the OVS is only required to be present for
part of the day. Principal OVS Jane Downes, who is based at
the MHS's York headquarters, told Viva! that, 'OVSs must observe
slaughter as frequently as possible and at least once per
In Viva!'s view this is inadequate - the OVS will not necessarily
gain the full picture of welfare standards that is needed
in order to complete the official documentation. In particular,
if the OVS is absent at the end of a working day s/he will
not be able to observe whether standards deteriorate as staff
become tired. US researcher Temple Grandin says, 'It is highly
recommended to evaluate the beginning and end of work shifts.
Results of the survey reported here indicated that the number
of ineffective stuns during the first attempt on an animal,
using a captive-bolt stunner, increased late in the shift,
when operators were fatigued.' (8)
Viva! also fears that both OVSs and MHS staff spend the majority
of their time monitoring hygiene post-killing and little time
monitoring the treatment of live animals by slaughterhouse
staff. Visits to slaughterhouses by Viva! investigators have
confirmed this - MHS staff were seen spending virtually all
their time in the slaughter hall rather than observing the
welfare of live animals in the lairage and during stunning.
In January 2000, Viva! asked the Meat Hygiene Service whether
there is a percentage of time for which a member of MHS staff
must be observing stunning and killing process. We also asked
who is responsible for animal welfare if an OVS or MHI is
not observing stunning and killing.
Principal OVS Jane Downes would not provide the specific
answers we required. She replied that, 'All staff working
with animals have a moral and statutory duty to protect animal
welfare' and that, 'animal welfare standards must be monitored
continually by MHS staff and be an integral part of their
work.' (7) In their Animal Welfare Survey 2000, the MHS simply
say that, 'The MHS will continue to monitor animal welfare
at least once each day that the premises is slaughtering and
more frequently where the throughput, species and welfare
procedures demand an increased level of surveillance.' (9)
Jane Downes also informed Viva! that, 'Most larger slaughterhouses
also have a trained welfare officer.' (7) However the MHS
themselves admit that the level of trained staff within abattoirs
is inadequate. In their Animal Welfare 2000 Survey, the MHS
say that, 'Those persons responsible for the welfare of the
live animal have not always received training...' (9). In
their 1997/8 Survey they say that 30% of red meat slaughterhouses
were recorded as having little or no formal staff training
in animal welfare. In the poultry sector, they say that '50%
of plants had no staff who had undergone formal training.'
OVS Recruitment Difficulties
In 1998, the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings
over actual levels of OVS presence in red meat slaughterhouses
in the UK (6). The UK government admitted that OVS levels
were not as required under EU legislation and explained that
the UK was having practical difficulties in recruiting veterinary
surgeons willing to undertake OVS work. Government targets
have been set for full compliance with the legislation.
A 1999 EU report on poultry abattoirs states that, 'The frequency
and duration of the presence of the Official Veterinary Surgeon
is not as required in EC legislation in establishments.' (6)
Viva! questions how animal welfare legislation can be adequately
enforced when the OVS presence in UK abattoirs is below the
Hygiene Assessment Scores
The Hygiene Assessment System (HAS) was set up in the UK
as a tool for hygiene monitoring. Abattoirs are given a monthly
published score (maximum 100) which is supposedly indicative
of hygiene standards in that plant. Each year, the Agriculture
Minister sets national targets for HAS scores throughout the
UK. The achievement of these goals is linked to a performance
related pay package which can potentially lead to a salary
bonus of 12% for management at MHS central and regional level.
The EC Food and Veterinary Office investigated the HAS as
part of their report on poultry abattoirs. They conclude that
there are, 'a number of severe shortcomings of the use of
the system and of the system itself.' (6)
They discovered that the Hygiene Assessment System and the
day books of the Official Veterinary Surgeon did not mention
a number of 'severe deficiencies' relating to the hygiene
requirements for staff, premises, equipment and implements
and for slaughter and the handling of fresh meat. They conclude
that, 'There seems to be a tendency that parts of the meat
industry (some producers and buyers) use the HAS-scores as
a commercial asset. There seems to be an obvious risk that
the OVSs and POVs are being put under pressure by the MHS-management
and the plants management to give higher scores.'
Animal Welfare Survey
The Meat Hygiene Service regularly publishes an Animal Welfare
Review which reviews all aspects of animal welfare in slaughterhouses.
The survey is based on check lists which are completed by
Official Veterinary Surgeons during a given time period (typically
In the Animal Welfare Review 2000, the authors conclude that,
'The overall result demonstrates a very high level of compliance
with Regulations. Notwithstanding, there are several areas
which are identifiable as poorly enforced at the time of the
Viva! is concerned that, as with the Hygiene Assessment System,
OVSs will be under extreme pressure from plant management
to give higher scores to abattoirs than they actually merit.
However, in the absence of other statistical reports, we have
used information from the MHS Review in this report.
It should be noted that the MHS had technical difficulties
when inputting the data for the 2000 Review. They have recognised
the recording of 'inappropriate data' and have acknowledged
that, despite attempts to rectify the situation, some results
may 'appear to be anomalous'. (9)
Waiting to die
Whether animals are 'humanely' stunned before slaughter or
not, they will suffer stress whilst waiting to be killed.
N.G. Gregory from Bristol University's Department of Food
Animal Science studied the effects of pre-slaughter stress
on meat quality and explains that, 'There are many ways in
which animals suffer during the preslaughter period.' (11)
Dehydration: Animals may not be provided with water at market
or during their journey to the slaughterhouse and may arrive
dehydrated. Gregory explains that, 'The effects of severe
dehydration include severe thirst, nausea, a hot-dry body,
dry tongue, loss of co-ordination and concentrated urine of
a small volume.'
Emotional and temperature stress during transport: The unfamiliarity
of being on board a transporter causes fear in animals and
if they are cooped up with others who they do not know, they
may start fighting. The noise and jolting of the transporter
also causes stress and cows, pigs, horses and birds are at
particular risk of suffering from motion sickness.
Some animals die because of the heat which develops in the
closely confined conditions on board the transporter. Gregory
explains that during transport, animals are not able to express
all the behaviours which normally allow them to keep cool
- like seeking shade, wallowing, licking their fur or stretching
their wings and legs. While the truck is moving, wind may
be able to reach the animals through slats or crates but if
the truck breaks down or gets stuck in traffic, they will
literally start baking alive.
Torn skin, bruising and injury: Caused by rough handling
of animals for example beating them with sticks when they
refuse to move forward or dragging them along the ground when
they fall down. Gregory explains that, 'The insults which
lead to bruising may be painful and the swelling and inflammation
associated with a bruise lead to a longer-lasting pain.'
The killing process
When mammals arrive at the slaughterhouse, they will be unloaded
into the lairage. Each animal is then driven to the stunning
pen. Sheep and pigs may be stunned in pens in groups or placed
into a V shaped conveyor belt system so that each approaches
the stunner individually. After being stunned, animals are
shackled by one or both legs, hoisted onto the line and knifed.
They are then left to bleed to death (see UK legislation:
key points for minimum bleeding times). 'Dressing procedures'
are next when animals will be skinned (or have their bristles
removed in the case of pigs - often in a scalding tank) and
have their head and legs removed. Animals are then disembowelled
and, in the case of larger animals such as cattle and pigs,
cut in half. The carcasses are inspected before being chopped
into pieces and packaged up for shop and supermarket shelves.
Birds will arrive at the slaughterhouse crammed into the
crates which are loaded onto transporters. They are taken
out and hung upside down by their legs onto a moving conveyor
belt. (see Part 7: Poultry Slaughter, page
47) - unless they are to be stunned with gas in which
case they will be stunned whilst still inside the transport
crates. The birds pass through an electric waterbath in an
attempt to render them unconscious before the have their throats
cut - usually by an automatic throat cutter. After they have
been left to bleed out for a period they are plunged into
a scalding tank to remove their feathers. Birds will then
have any remaining feathers plucked, have their heads and
feet removed and be eviscerated before being packaged up for
Modern slaughter plants are highly mechanised and only need
a limited number of staff. In fact, they operate just like
any other efficient factory production line. The difference
is that the goods being processed are live animals rather
than cars or televisions.
Mr. R. Cawthorne, chairman of Invicta Lamb Ltd explains that
slaughterhouse throughputs range from 10 cattle units a day
(very small) to 400 (very large). A cattle unit is, apparently,
the term used to describe a certain 'quantity' of animals
- whatever the species. He says that, 'A European cattle unit
is generally understood to be one beef animal or five pigs
or 10 sheep'. (12) This gives an indication of the lack of
interest in the individual animal at slaughterhouses. An animal
is simply seen in terms of the quantity of animal flesh that
can be sold once s/he is dead.
Shrouded in secrecy
Members of the public are rarely allowed to visit slaughterhouses.
In October 1999, Viva! wrote to slaughterhouses local to the
charity's HQ requesting permission to visit and observe the
slaughter process for ourselves. We were rejected on the grounds
that the companies' insurance policies do not allow outside
visitors. Below is a selection of the responses we received
'Whilst I'm not unsympathetic to your objective I regret
that it will not be possible to arrange a conducted tour
of our slaughter Plant, as we have quite specific insurance
limitation, and although some non-trading persons seeking
to make a visit do sometimes claim that they are adequately
covered by their own insurance this is not an acceptable
R.R. Cawthorne, Chairman, Invicta Lamb Ltd.
'Regret we are unable to help you - insurance regulations!'
The Manager, Forge Farm Meats Ltd.
'We are sorry that owing to the fact of the Vegetarian
Organisation costing us money due to Vandalising our Butcher
Shop and Abattoir we under no circumstances will have you
on the premises.'
A. Ballard, Secretary, Ken Ballard Ltd.
The government's own advisory body, The Farm Animal Welfare
Council (FAWC), has faced similar problems. FAWC are currently
producing a report on the welfare of animals at slaughter
and in their latest annual review, they say that although
some slaughterhouses have allowed access, 'we are extremely
disappointed that some of the larger slaughterhouses felt
they were too busy to host a visit.' (14)
Members of the public, media and representatives of government
advisory bodies and animal welfare charities should have the
right to visit slaughterhouses and observe the killing process.
Assurances of high welfare and hygiene standards within abattoirs
based solely on reports from government and industry representatives
will do nothing to alleviate our, or the public's, concerns.
Slaughtermen: Training and Licensing
The Farm Animal Welfare Council conducted a major review
of red meat slaughterhouses as part of a report which was
published in 1984. They were particularly concerned at the
lack of training given to slaughterhouse staff. They concluded
that some slaughtermen had little understanding of the needs
of the animals they were handling and, 'had evidently been
given no formal training other than purely mechanical instructions
on the operation of the equipment they were handling and even
that often left much to be desired.' They warned supervisors
to, 'be particularly aware of the danger of slaughtermen becoming
so inured to the killing process that consideration of the
animal is forgotten.' (15)
16 years later, has the situation improved? Under the Welfare
of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, slaughtermen
are required to have a licence to cover the relevant species,
operations and equipment. The regulations state that, 'no
person shall engage in the movement, lairaging, restraint,
stunning, slaughter or killing of an animal unless he has
the knowledge and skill necessary to perform those tasks humanely
and efficiently.' (5)
In order to obtain a licence, a trainee slaughterman needs
to obtain a certificate of competence from an official veterinary
surgeon. Trainee slaughtermen first obtain a provisional licence,
meaning that they can only work under the direction of slaughtermen
holding a full licence or a veterinary surgeon.
The OVS is supposed to assess the performance and knowledge
of a trainee slaughterman before granting a Certificate of
Competence. MAFF's 'Guidance Note on the Licensing and Training
of Slaughtermen' (January 1996) explains that the assessment
is not a 'formal examination' and that the trainee's skills
will usually be observed under normal working conditions -
either in one session or over a period of time. The trainee
is also required to have 'adequate knowledge' of welfare regulations
The Guidance Note recommends 'on-the-job' training as being
the 'most effective' way of gaining practical experience.
So, before obtaining a licence, a trainee slaughtermen can
start 'practising' provided that he is in the company of a
slaughterman who already holds a licence.
It is commonplace for slaughterhouses to have no staff who
have undergone formal training. The 1997/8 MHS Animal Welfare
Survey says that 30% of red meat slaughterhouses were recorded
as having little or no formal staff training in animal welfare.
In the poultry sector, they say that '50% of plants had no
staff who had undergone formal training.' (10)
The lack of training in UK abattoirs contravenes advice from
the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Commission.
They say that, 'The personnel involved in pre-slaughter handling,
stunning, slaughter and pithing of animals should be trained
and certified and they shall undertake periodical training
and education to acquire knowledge of the current developments.'
Although the MHS report says that the provision of formal
welfare training needs to be improved, they simply say, 'It
is a recommendation that plant operators commit to having
at least one member of staff undergo formal welfare training
and that this training be cascaded down to all staff involved
in the handling of live animals.' (10)
Viva! believes that both the current situation and the MHS
recommendation are wholly inadequate. Slaughtermen should
not be allowed to 'have a go' on live animals without having
undergone formal training. Whilst animals are killed for their
meat, slaughtermen should, at the very least, have a good
knowledge of animal husbandry and a thorough understanding
of the procedures which they are to carry out. They should
be closely supervised by an official veterinary surgeon until
they have obtained their Certificate of Competence. Additionally,
all slaughtermen should be regularly re-assessed to ensure
that their standard of competence is not diminishing due to
slaughtermen becoming 'inured' to the killing process.
In their 1984 report on slaughter, the Farm Animal Welfare
Council commented, 'We have been concerned to find that the
practice of payment of slaughter staff on a piece-work basis
is fairly common. We consider that such a practice is not
in the interests of the welfare of the individual animal but
appreciate that it would be difficult to legislate against.
Nevertheless we suggest that consideration be given to setting
guidelines in the proposed Code of Practice on maximum throughput
rates at the point of stunning and slaughter.' (15)
In February 2000, Mr. R. Cawthorne, chairman of Invicta Lamb
Ltd, described current payment systems to Viva! in a letter:
'Some line operatives are paid an hourly rate - with possibly
a production bonus based on whether or not they carry out
a full day's processing, or part of a day. Other operatives
work on a 'pool' system where the Plant owners or Management
pay a fixed rate per head into the 'pool', say £3 for
a beef animal and £0.62 per sheep (or any other agreed
sum). This pool would subsequently be divided amongst the
operatives according to their skill grades and whether or
not they have achieved a full attendance throughout the working
week. In other Plants - often small ones - the operatives
could be 'self employed' and consequently paid an hourly or
daily gross rate.' (12)
Cawthorne describes as a 'fallacy' the notion that the faster
slaughterline operatives work and the more animals they kill,
the more money they earn. Viva! disagrees. Slaughterhouses
would not choose to pay workers in this way if they did not
believe it increased productivity. Distributing money according
to the number of animals killed in a day means that it is
not advantageous for a worker to point out any problem which
could lead to the line being stopped. There is also a risk
of enforcement officers being intimidated or harassed by workers
if they need to stop the line.
In January 2000, Viva! wrote to MAFF and the Meat Hygiene
Service enquiring what percentage of abattoirs currently use
piece rate payment and whether there are any regulations to
cover this payment system. We asked MAFF for their opinion
on paying workers in this way.
MAFF replied, 'The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing)
Regulations 1995 do not legislate on the payment of slaughterers,
and contractual arrangements of this type are a matter between
the employer and employee. Accordingly we do not collect any
information on this subject. However it is the responsibility
of everyone engaged in slaughtering to ensure that they observe
the requirements of the welfare legislation, and this applies
irrespective of the method of payment to the workforce.' (18).
The Meat Hygiene Service replied, 'I am unable to answer
your question. The MHS is not involved with the methods of
renumerate for slaughterhouse staff.' (19)
Viva! does not believe that slaughterhouses should pay their
staff according to the number of animals that are killed in
a day. The Farm Animal Welfare Council have admitted that
such systems are not in the animals' interests. It is the
responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Food to legislate against practices which can compromise animal