The lack of skills and training of staff working in pig slaughtering has been highlighted as a serious welfare concern by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Most hazards related to the welfare of pigs at slaughter are due to inadequate staff skills and poorly designed and constructed slaughterhouses or farm facilities.

A scientific opinion proposes measures to address welfare hazards commonly associated with the slaughter of pigs for food production and follows opinions on poultry and rabbits. One on cattle is planned for later this year.

The overview covers the slaughter process from arrival and unloading of pigs through stunning to bleeding and killing. It identifies a number of hazards that cause welfare issues and proposes preventive and corrective measures.

Most hazards linked to staff
Stunning methods were grouped into electrical, controlled atmosphere and mechanical. Twelve welfare consequences during slaughter were identified: heat and cold stress, fatigue, prolonged thirst, and hunger, impeded and restriction of movements, resting problem, negative social behavior, pain, fear, and respiratory distress.

As with the opinion on poultry, most hazards, or 29 of 30 identified, are the consequence of staff failings due to issues like lack of training and fatigue. Most related to stunning and bleeding. Preventive measures can be taken for all hazards with site management having a crucial role to play, according to EFSA.

Ranking of hazards according to severity, magnitude, and frequency of welfare consequences for pigs at slaughtering is planned in a future scientific opinion to prioritize preventive and corrective measures and improve the procedure at slaughter.

At arrival, pigs should be unloaded as soon as possible and those with severe pain, signs of illness, or unable to move independently should be inspected and emergency slaughter applied immediately. Permanent access to water, adequate space, and protection from adverse weather should be ensured during lairage. Stunning methods requiring painful restraint or unconsciousness should not be used. Death must be confirmed before carcass processing begins.

Marta Hugas, EFSA’s chief scientist, said as part of the Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission is reviewing animal welfare.

“This series of opinions, plus others that we will deliver in the next few years, will provide the scientific basis for that review. Having high standards of animal welfare improves animal health and food quality, reduce the need for medication, and can help preserve biodiversity. Healthy, well looked-after animals are essential to a healthy food chain,” she said.

Inquiry into animal welfare rule breaches
Meanwhile, the European Parliament is to set up a committee to investigate alleged breaches in animal welfare rules during transport by air, road, rail, and sea within and outside the EU.

It will focus on how rules are being implemented by member states and whether the EU Commission is enforcing them properly. EU law is meant to protect farmed animals, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep, transported on journeys for slaughter, breeding, or further fattening. A final report must be submitted within 12 months.

Thirty members of the EU Parliament will look into the EU Commission’s alleged failure to act on evidence that rules on moving live animals across the EU and to third countries are being seriously and systematically infringed. It will investigate a suspected lack of implementation and enforcement of provisions on space allowance and headroom for transported animals, on their watering, feeding, and bedding, and on temperature and ventilation system during transport.

Every year more than three million live animals are transported from the EU to third countries, according to animal welfare organization Four Paws.

Martina Stephany, director of the Farm Animals Department at Four Paws, said it expects a strong review and immediate enforcement.

“The grievances and regular violations of the transport regulation out of pure greed for profit will finally become visible. The committee must be a wake-up call for the EU member states and Commission to finally put an end to the systematic violations of the law and animal suffering.”

Push for reform
The Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament said each year around one and a half billion pigs, cows, and other animals are transported for days across the EU and to third countries.

Tilly Metz MEP, a Greens/EFA member of the Agricultural Committee, said cruelty to animals, violations of animal welfare rules, and responsibility of the EU Commission and governments must be investigated.

“Citizens can no longer tolerate the outrageous horrors on animal transports across the European Union and to third countries. The regulation for the protection of animals during transport needs to be fundamentally reformed. We need shorter transport times, stricter controls, and tougher penalties.”

The request gained momentum after incidents of animal abuse during transport including capsizing of a ship carrying 14,000 sheep off the coast of Romania destine for the Middle East, according to the GUE/NGL political group.

Anja Hazekamp, an MEP, and president of the Animal Welfare Intergroup said the inquiry will investigate how it is possible that transportation is licensed under illegal circumstances.

“We want to force EU member states to comply with the rules and no longer permit animal transport during extreme weather conditions or for weeks on end to countries outside of the union.”

Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals, said: “This committee will conduct a long-overdue in-depth investigation into the system and it will contribute to making the new Transport Regulation an effective tool to protect the welfare of the animals transported within and outside the EU.”

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