Humane Slaughter of Farm Animals - Position Statement
January 13, 2021
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) considers that the slaughtering of animals for food, carries with it a high risk of animal welfare compromise. Within the background of this position paper, are recommendations that the CVMA would like to see adopted by all stakeholders to enhance the welfare of animals during the slaughter process.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that, when farmed animals are slaughtered for food, the methods employed must minimize fear, pain, distress and suffering, and they must result in immediate death or rapid loss of consciousness that persists until the time of death. The CVMA takes the position that effective stunning should always be used before slaughter. The CVMA also holds that all stakeholders have a responsibility to minimize suffering associated with slaughter-without-stunning.
- All operators of abattoirs and individuals involved in slaughtering animals for food in Canada are responsible for ensuring that animals are treated humanely and the risk of distress throughout the process is minimized, from the time of withdrawal of feed and water to loading, transportation and handling through to slaughter.
- The slaughtering of animals presents occupational health and safety risks to workers, including physical and psychological (post-traumatic stress and desensitization) risks. These risks can challenge the optimization of ongoing humane treatment of animals during the slaughter processes
- There is currently no law that uniformly applies welfare standards to all slaughter carried out in Canada.
- The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) requires that with the exception of “ritual slaughter” (Judaic or Islamic religious slaughter), all animals that are slaughtered, must first be stunned.
- Provision 144 of the SFCR allows for an exemption to the pre-slaughter stunning process for ritual slaughter.
- Slaughter by exsanguination without prior stunning carries with it a greater risk of suffering.
1. All operators of abattoirs and individuals involved in slaughtering animals for food in Canada are responsible for ensuring that animals are treated humanely and the risk of distress throughout the process is minimized, from the time of withdrawal of feed and water to loading, transportation and handling through to slaughter.
2. The CVMA believes that commitments must be made by slaughter plant operators to optimize animal welfare by, effectively training their personnel, monitoring their organization’s processes, correcting any problems that may impact animal welfare and striving for continuous improvement in the areas of transport, handling, stunning and slaughter of animals intended to become food.
3. Operators must be aware that slaughtering of animals presents occupational health and safety risks to workers, including physical and psychological (post-traumatic stress and desensitization) risks. These risks can challenge the optimization of ongoing humane treatment of animals during the slaughter processes (1,2). Operators should implement appropriate occupational health and safety programs designed to mitigate such risks.
4. There is currently no law that uniformly applies welfare standards to all slaughter carried out in Canada (3). Federal regulations and licensing apply to the slaughter of mammals and birds for inter-provincial trade or export (4). Animal slaughter for intra-provincial trade is regulated by legislation that varies by province.
5. The welfare of farmed fish at slaughter does not receive the same attention as the slaughter of mammals and birds (5), however, the position statement is applicable to the slaughter of farmed fish in that effective pre-slaughter stunning should be used (6).
6. The CVMA encourages consistent and acceptable slaughter processes across the country and recommends that the slaughter industry join other sectors of the Food Production Chain in developing and adopting a Code of Practice that contains required and recommended animal welfare standards for federally and provincially regulated slaughter (7,8).
7. The CVMA advocates that provincial authorities should introduce or revise regulations on the slaughter of animals
a. to ensure that there is full regulatory oversight of the welfare standards for the slaughter of animals (including animal transport, receiving and handling) conducted at any location, including veterinary involvement in the implementation of provincial slaughter regulations and ;
b. that enact similar requirements to those contained in The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations for provincially regulated slaughter establishments that would require the operator to design and implement comprehensive animal welfare procedures at their establishment (4,9).
8. The CVMA supports ongoing stakeholder engagement to enhance handling and slaughter practices (8) as well as industry and publicly funded animal welfare research and development in this area.
9. The CVMA is concerned that inspection staff may not always be in a position to enforce animal welfare regulations at provincially and federally regulated slaughter establishments in an effective and consistent manner.
Inspection staff should be:
- well trained (in both the theory and applied aspects of animal welfare, slaughter and enforcement) and updated on an ongoing basis,
- mentored, especially in remote locations where staff work alone,
- brought into group meetings for dialogue and updates,
- encouraged to discuss animal welfare issues in a non-threatening atmosphere,
- supervised and well supported by the regulator,
- required to keep records of animal welfare conditions and the effectiveness of the plants standard operating procedures, and
- encouraged to immediately stop any activity or procedure that is inhumane and causes unnecessary pain or distress.
10. The CVMA urges federal and provincial enforcement agencies to increase the transparency and reporting of information on the welfare of animals at slaughter by publishing anonymized information on the methods of slaughter used, inspection and enforcement activity, and annual surveys of compliance by regulated establishments with animal welfare performance standards (10).
11. The CVMA encourages slaughter plants to use independent third-party video surveillance and auditing of animals during unloading, handling, lairage and slaughter (11).
12. The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) requires that, with the exception of “ritual slaughter” (Judaic or Islamic religious slaughter), all animals that are slaughtered, must first be stunned using an approved stunning method that causes an immediate or rapid loss of consciousness that must be maintained until the animal is dead (4). A range of mechanical (e.g. captive bolt), electrical and gaseous methods are used to stun animals before they are killed (slaughtered) by exsanguination (loss of blood following the severance of blood vessels in the neck) (12).
13. In accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (13), Provision 144 of the SFCR allows for an exemption to the pre-slaughter stunning process for ritual slaughter; however the animal must be restrained, and slaughtered by “one continuous, fluid cut with a knife, without the knife being lifted off the food animal, resulting in the rapid, simultaneous and complete severance of the jugular veins and carotid arteries, in a manner that causes the animal to bleed immediately” and the animal must be rapidly and completely bled, “to render it unconscious in a manner that prevents it from regaining consciousness before death” (4).
14. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency [CFIA] Guidance for Ritual Slaughter recommends that: “Routine stunning, either prior or immediately post-cut, should be encouraged whenever possible for ritual slaughter. Stunning, when done routinely for ritual slaughter, must be carried out in accordance with the regulations and the policies for stunning requirements and best practices at all times” (14).
15. The main welfare issues caused by exsanguination without prior stunning are:
a) increased stress due to specific handling/restraint required to immobilize the neck for exsanguination
b) pain during and/or immediately following the neck incision
c) risk of suffering arising from aspiration of blood into the respiratory tract
d) the delay before the animal loses consciousness after exsanguination (15 - 19).
16. Some Halal slaughter is conducted with pre- or post-exsanguination stunning. However, the specifications of Halal slaughter can impose restrictions that can affect the effectiveness of the stunning (20). Methods used include:
a) Non-penetrative captive-bolt stunning after ventral-neck incision. This method can in some circumstances be effective (21). However, it is not as reliable as a penetrative captive bolt and it is more effective if it causes skull fractures (22)
b) Pre-slaughter stunning with either a penetrating or a non-penetrating captive bolt that allows the heart to beat for several minutes
c) Pre-slaughter reversible electrical stunning. However, this may not use the most effective current and/or frequency to induce unconsciousness (23)
d) Pre-slaughter gaseous stunning of poultry.
17. All stakeholders have a responsibility to work towards reducing suffering associated with slaughter-without-stunning by:
a) encouraging the use of stunning before, or if slaughter without prior stunning is a requirement, that stunning occur immediately after the blood vessels in the neck are cut
b) amending and harmonizing current slaughter regulations and practices to:
i. require that the person undertaking slaughter without stunning obtain a specific license that requires training, use of specified and inspected equipment, and regular assessments of competence by the federal or provincial regulatory authority
ii. require operators of premises where slaughter without prior stunning occurs to restrict this type of slaughter to a specified number of animals to meet verified contractual market requirements for that method of slaughter
iii. require that all meat from animals slaughtered without prior stunning is labelled to indicate the method of slaughter used (24,25).
- Fitzgerald, AJ. A social history of the slaughterhouse: From inception to contemporary implications. Human Ecol. Rev. 2010;17(1):58-69. Available from: https://www.humanecologyreview.org/pastissues/her171/Fitzgerald.pdf. Last accessed July 3rd.
- Baran, B., Rogelberg, S., Clausen, T. (2016). Routinized killing of animals: Going beyond dirty work and prestige to understand the well-being of slaughterhouse workers. Organization. 2016;23:351-369. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508416629456. Last accessed July 3rd 2020.
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- Government of Canada. Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, SOR/2018-108. Available from : https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2018-108/FullText.html. Last accessed July 3rd ,2020.
- Lines, JA, Spence, J. Humane harvesting and slaughter of farmed fish. Rev Sci Tech. 2014;33:255-264. Available from : https://doc.oie.int/dyn/portal/index.seam?page=alo&aloId=31762. Last accessed January 2021.
- Robb, D., Wotton, SB., McKinstry, JL., Sørensen, NK, Kestin, SC. Commercial slaughter methods used on Atlantic salmon: Determination of the onset of brain failure by electroencephalography. Vet Rec. 2000;147:298-303. doi:10.1136/vr.147.11.298
- National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council. A National Farm Animal Welfare System for Canada – 2019. (2019). Available from: http://www.ahwcouncil.ca/pdfs/animal-welfare-system/NFAHW%20Council_Recommendation_National%20Farm%20Animal%20Welfare%20System%20for%20Canada_2019.pdf. Last accessed July 3rd, 2020.
- National Farmed Animal Care Council. Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals (2020). Available from: https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice. Last accessed July 3rd, 2020.
- Whiting, TL. Policing farm animal welfare in federated nations: The problem of dual federalism in Canada and the USA. Animals. 2013;3(4):1086-1122. Available from: https://doaj.org/article/368c8958f083462ab1ca2a4b666b144c. Last accessed July 3rd, 2020.
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- Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Mechanical, electrical or gas stunning; slaughter methods and monitoring signs of unconsciousness or consciousness. (2019a). Available from : https://www.inspection.gc.ca/food-safety-for-industry/food-specific-requirements-and-guidance/meat-products-and-food-animals/slaughter-methods-and-monitoring/eng/1539372028443/1539372028884?chap=0. Last accessed July 3rd, 2020.
- Government of Canada. Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (2019) Available from : https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/how-rights-protected/guide-canadian-charter-rights-freedoms.html. Last accessed July 3rd, 2020.
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Guidelines for ritual slaughter of food animals without pre-slaughter stunning. (2019b). Available from: https://www.inspection.gc.ca/food-safety-for-industry/food-specific-requirements-and-guidance/meat-products-and-food-animals/guidelines-for-ritual-slaughter-of-food-animals-wi/eng/1542387114106/1542388400893. Last accessed July 3rd, 2020.
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(Revised October, 2020)