A Viva! report on the slaughter of farmed animals in the UK
Almost 900 million farmed animals are slaughtered for the dinner plate each year in the UK. The shift towards huge commercial enterprises means that less than 600 abattoirs are responsible for this vast killing operation. Every day, over two million living animals are unloaded from transporters, often after enduring lengthy journeys in cramped conditions. They are shunted through industrial buildings - often with electric goads - before meeting the slaughterman's knife.
In order to eat meat with a clear conscience, many consumers imagine the killing process to be a sanitized affair. Indeed, most meat-eaters agree that no animal deserves to suffer at the time of death. This concept of humane slaughter is supposed to be at the core of UK slaughter legislation. Welfare minister Ben Bradshaw, says that killing must be humane and that animals must be stunned so that they are unconscious and unable to feel pain during slaughter by bleeding (1).
Sentenced to Death proves beyond doubt that the Ministry of Agriculture's soothing words are meaningless. We have reviewed the latest scientific literature and obtained opinions from experts across the board. As a result, we have built up an extremely disturbing picture of the reality behind Britain's killing factories. Tens of millions of animals are being ineffectively stunned and are regaining consciousness while they bleed to death.
Estimated numbers of animals regaining consciousness
- Each year, 1.8 million electrically stunned pigs regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood. 244,800 pigs a year are not stunned at all. Four million pigs a year are stunned with carbon dioxide gas. It takes pigs up to 30 seconds to lose consciousness and during that time they will squeal, hyperventilate and try to escape.
- Each year, five million electrically stunned sheep regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood. Scientific research shows that electrical stunning may not cause unconsciousness at all.
- Each year, up to up to 230,000 cattle each year are not correctly stunned with the captive bolt pistol. They will have to endure the pain of being shot in the head and will then have to be shot again or knifed whilst conscious.
- Each year, 62 million chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood. 8.4 million are conscious when they enter the scalding tank.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
- Video footage: Viva!'s video footage shows sheep and pigs only being stunned for two seconds and clearly regaining consciousness before they die.
- Lack of inspection: Official veterinary surgeons are only obliged to observe slaughter once a day. Meat Hygiene Inspectors often spend the majority of their time observing carcass 'dressing procedures' and very little time observing animals while they are in the lairage or being stunned and killed.
- Pressure on official veterinary surgeons: The EC Food and Veterinary Office say there is a risk that official veterinary surgeons are put under pressure by MHS and abattoir management to give higher Hygiene Assessment Scores than they deserve. Viva! fears that the same thing happens when OVSs complete their check lists for the Meat Hygiene Service's bi-annual Animal Welfare Review.
- Greater openness needed: Members of the public, media and animal welfare charities are rarely allowed access to slaughterhouses. Even representatives from the government's own advisory body, The Farm Animal Welfare Council, have been refused access to some of the larger plants. Viva! calls for greater openness within the industry.
- Lack of training: 30% of red meat slaughterhouses are recorded as having little or no formal staff training in animal welfare. 50% of poultry slaughterhouses have no staff who have undttoirs.
- Pregnant cows slaughtered: 150,000 pregnant cows are killed each year - 25% of them in the third trimester of their nine month pregnancy.
- Sheep regain consciousness: The interval between stunning and knifing is as high as 70 seconds for sheep and it takes them 14 seconds to lose brain responsiveness if both carotid arteries are cut. UK law only requires one carotid artery to be cut and in this case sheep take an average of 70 seconds to lose brain responsiveness. Yet an electric head-only stun only lasts between 20 and 40 seconds. Viva! estimates that each year, 5 million sheep regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood.
- Does electric stunning work? Scientific research has not been able to prove that electric head-only stunning causes unconsciousness. Researchers at Bristol University found that after an electric stun, sheep are not able to feel pain but they have periods of being fully aware of their surroundings i.e. they can still feel fear and they are aware that they are hanging upside down on the killing rail, bleeding to death. In addition, no one has been able to prove whether the loss of consciousness is immediate and Dr Harold Hillman believes that when animals are stunned, they suffer extreme pain which he describes as 'torture'. They are unable to cry out or move because the massive electric current paralyses them.
- Inaccurate tong placement on pigs: Inaccurate placement of the electric tongs is a problem within the pig industry. Research has shown that 36% of tong placements do not span the brain as required by law. 13.3% of pigs are stunned on the snout and jaws - a position which is not recommended as 15% of pigs stunned in this way fail to lose consciousness. Viva! estimates that in the UK, 244,800 pigs a year are not stunned at all because of this.
- Pigs regain consciousness: Pigs stay unconscious for an average of 42 seconds after they are electrically stunned but not all pigs stay unconscious for this long. They take up to 23 seconds to lose brain responsiveness after they are knifed, meaning that the interval between stunning and knifing should not be longer than 19 seconds. But 53 abattoirs - 15% of the total - have stun-to-knifing intervals which are longer than this. Viva! estimates that each year, 1.8 million pigs regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood.
- CO2 gas used for pigs: 25% of pigs - or four million a year - are stunned with CO2 gas. It takes pigs up to 30 seconds to lose consciousness and during that time they will squeal, hyperventilate and try to escape.
- Captive bolt used for pigs: 20% of plants slaughtering pigs use captive bolt pistols although this method is not recommended for pigs because the brain lies deep down in the head and it is difficult to cause unconsciousness.
- Dead on arrival: Each year, 1.7 million chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese die before they reach the slaughterhouse. Birds die from heart failure, dislocation of the hip joint and having their skull crushed when the plastic drawers on the transporter are closed.
- Painful shackling: UK legislation states that turkeys can be shackled by their legs for up to six minutes and other birds for up to three minutes before they are killed - despite evidence showing that the procedure is extremely painful. Chickens and turkeys are bred to grow so fast that most suffer from painful leg deformities.
- Painful electric shocks: Each year 2.1 million turkeys suffer from painful electric shocks when they are dipped into the electric waterbath because their wings hang lower than their heads.
- Birds inhale faeces: Some birds defecate during stunning meaning that other birds inhale faeces when they are dipped into the electric waterbath.
- Decapitated whilst conscious: Birds can swan-neck - raising their heads when entering the electric waterbath and so avoiding full immersion. This is a particular problem with ducks and geese. Any birds who are not stunned are meant to be decapitated by a back-up killer whilst conscious.
- Birds regain consciousness: Birds routinely regain consciousness before they lose brain responsiveness if they do not have a cardiac arrest when they are stunned. The electric waterbath causes unconsciousness for at least 52 seconds. Yet it takes chickens nearly three minutes to lose brain responsiveness if both carotid arteries are severed and around five minutes if one jugular artery and one carotid artery is severed. Viva! estimates that each year, 62 million birds regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood. 8.4 million are still alive when they enter the scalding tank.