20th Oct 2016

EU wants welfare officers in slaughterhouses

Slaughterhouses throughout the EU could be obliged to appoint special officers for animal welfare who are to ensure that pigs, sheep, goats, cattle and poultry are humanely treated at the time of their killing, according to European Commission proposals unveiled on Thursday (18 October).

If approved by all 27 member states, the European Commission's proposal will "integrate welfare considerations into the design of slaughterhouses," requiring the killing techniques to be constantly monitored.

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Abattoirs will have to appoint a specific person responsible for animal welfare and ensure that their staff are properly trained and certified, although. Small slaughterhouses will be exempt from this requirement.

Every year, nearly 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle as well as several billion chickens are killed in EU slaughterhouses for their meat. The EC proposal will also apply to the about 25 million animals killed for their fur.

"As a society we have a duty of care towards animals, which includes minimising distress and avoiding pain throughout the slaughtering process," EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said.

"The current EU rules are outdated and need revision. This proposal will make a real difference to the way animals are treated at the time of slaughter, as well as promoting innovation and providing a level playing field for operators," she added.

Animal rights groups hailed the commission proposal.

Eurogroup for Animals spokesperson Steven Blaakman told EUobserver: "The commission made no mention of religious slaughter," pointing out that some countries such as France allow exceptions on religious grounds from having to stun an animal before it is killed. "There, a large amount of sheep meat comes from animals killed via religious slaughter," Mr Blaakman said, while Sweden permits no exceptions on religious grounds.

Enforcing the regulations in the new member states may be difficult however. Romania maintains a strong tradition of slaughtering pigs for Christmas in one's own back yard instead of at slaughterhouses.

No humane treatment for workers

Though protecting animals against inhumane conditions, the commission's proposal makes no mention of humane conditions for the human workers in the same slaughterhouses.

The International Labour Organisation has long criticised the often brutal labour conditions of abattoir employees, particularly within Germany, where eastern Europeans are brought in to meet the demands of the meat industry's thirst for labour but paid a fraction of what their German counterparts are normally paid. Unsanitary conditions are common, as are intimidation and even violence when workers protest or go on strike.

Last week, German prosecutors in Düsseldorf broadened their criminal inquiry into black market labour in slaughterhouses to throughout the country, with some 80 Romanians and Germans under investigation.

The prosecutors estimate that slaughterhouse employers have made tens of millions of euros in recent years via tax evasion and the use of black-market labour.

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