Humane Slaughter of Animals - Position Statement
January 21, 2016
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that, when farmed animals are killed for food, the methods employed must minimize fear, anxiety, pain, distress and suffering, and they must result in immediate and confirmed death or rapid loss of consciousness that persists until the time of death. Though slaughter-without-stunning is currently allowed in Canada under certain circumstances, the CVMA is opposed to the practice as it causes avoidable pain.
- All operators of abattoirs and individuals involved in slaughtering animals for food in Canada are responsible for ensuring that animals are treated humanely and do not experience distress throughout the process, from the time of withdrawal of feed and water to loading, transportation and handling through to slaughter. Commitment must be made by slaughter plant operators to optimize animal welfare by 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.
- There is currently no federal law that applies to slaughter carried out in all establishments in Canada. While some establishments are federally-registered and therefore are subject to federal law, other non-federally-registered establishments are governed by individual provincial laws. The CVMA encourages all levels of government to develop effective and consistent standards for oversight of humane slaughter in jurisdictions across Canada. In addition industry is encouraged to ensure consistency in humane slaughter practices by implementing operating standards through closely monitored national animal welfare programs.
- The CVMA supports full regulatory oversight of animal welfare including for the humane slaughter of animals conducted at any location. It also supports ongoing stakeholder engagement and supports continuing research and development on ways to ensure that handling and slaughter practices are humane (1,2,3).
- The CVMA recognizes that although federal law requires the stunning of animals prior to slaughter, some exceptions are currently allowed for federally-regulated establishments under the Meat Inspection Regulations (MIR) (4). A preference for slaughter preceded by stunning is clear however in that the supporting policy to this regulation (5) states that “reversible stunning before ritual slaughter or immediately post-cut stunning is encouraged, whenever possible”.
- As with methods that involve stunning, the scientific literature emphasizes that operators performing slaughter without stunning must be appropriately trained, highly skilled and monitored; otherwise less than optimal handling and killing techniques will pose unacceptable risks to animal welfare (4,6-9). Scientific evidence however indicates that because the slaughter of animals for food without prior stunning has been shown to cause pain, a clear and significant risk to animal welfare does exist (7).
- 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, thereby potentially affecting the well-being of workers and as such presenting challenges to the optimization of ongoing humane treatment of animals during the slaughter processes (10). In this regard, operators should implement appropriate occupational health and safety programs designed to mitigate such risks.
- OIE (Office international des epizooties) Terrestrial Animal Health Code (2014). Chapter 7.5 Slaughter of Animals. Available from: http://www.oie.int/index.php?id=169&L=0&htmfile=chapitre_aw_slaughter.htm Last accessed October 6, 2015.
- Pozzi PS, Geraisy W, Barakeh S, Azaran M. Principles of Jewish and Islamic Slaughter with Respect to OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) Recommendations. Israel J Vet Med 2015:70(3):3-16.
- Silver J. Understanding freedom of religion in a religious industry: Kosher slaughter (Shechita) and animal welfare. Victoria U Wellington Law Rev 2011;42:671-704.
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Meat Inspection Regulations. Available from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-90-288/index.html Last accessed October 6, 2015.
- Rosen SD. Physiological insights into shechita. Vet Rec 2004;154(24):759-765.
- Johnson CB, Mellor DJ, Hemsworth PH, Fisher AD. A scientific comment on the welfare of domesticated ruminants slaughtered without stunning. New Zeal Vet J 2015;63(1):58-65.
- Gibson TJ, Johnson CB, Murrell JC, Hulls CM, Mitchinson SL, Stafford KJ, Johnstone AC, Mellor DJ. Electrocencephalographic responses of halothane-anaesthetised calves to slaughter by ventral-neck incision without prior stunning. New Zeal Vet J. 2009;57:77-85.
- Gibson TJ, Johnson CB, Murrell JC, Chambers JP, Stafford KJ, Mellor DJ. Components of electroencephalographic responses to slaughter in halothane-anaesthetised calves: Effects of cutting neck tissues compared to major vessels. New Zeal Vet J 2009;57:84-89.
- Fitzgerald AJ. A social history of the slaughterhouse: From inception to contemporary implications. Human Ecol Rev 2010;17(1):59-69.
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures Chapter 12: Food Animal Humane Handling and Slaughter - Animal Welfare Requirements. Available from: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/meat-and-poultry-products/manual-of-procedures/chapter-12/animal-welfare-requirements/eng/1392144659190/1392144660111 Last accessed October 23, 2015
(Adopted November 2015)
 Section 79 of the MIR states that all slaughter, with the exception of “ritual slaughter” (Judaic or Islamic religious slaughter), must be preceded by a stunning technique that entails an immediate loss of consciousness that must be maintained prior to death. In the case of ritual slaughter, Section 77 of the MIR allows for an exemption to the stunning process, however the animal must “be restrained and slaughtered by means of a cut resulting in rapid, simultaneous and complete severance of the jugular veins and carotid arteries, in a manner that causes the animal to lose consciousness immediately”.