EU sets pace on poultry slaughter policy

The long-awaited report from the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) on welfare of poultry at slaughter was published last month, but may have been overtaken by events in Europe.

The imminent ratification of the EU’s new regulations on poultry slaughtering is set to provide legislation on all the concerns tackled by FAWC’s report.

The FAWC study considers the welfare of poultry in the last few hours of their lives, up to the moment of slaughter or killing. It deals with the experiences of poultry during catching and loading on the farm, the journey to the slaughterhouse, the wait in the lairage, unloading from transport containers, stunning and finally slaughter or killing.

The report has been submitted to DEFRA for evaluation, and makes a number of recommendations for each stage in the process.

Chairman of FAWC, Chris Wathes, said: “Since over 800m poultry are killed annually in Great Britain, there is a strong moral imperative to ensure that welfare is a prime consideration at all these stages.

“I have no doubt at all that implementation of this report’s recommendations will lead to significant improvements in the welfare of poultry at slaughter or killing.”

But Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the BPC, suggests the report has become irrelevant.

“FAWC is a highly respected body and British Poultry Council has always worked productively with FAWC as an industry. But this report has been a long time in the making, and in the meantime the Commission has come forward with very detailed proposals which cover all of what’s in the FAWC report.

“The Commission proposal is being pushed though at quite a pace by the Czech Presidency right now and we expect agreement at the Council meeting in June. So although it’s an interesting report, it isn’t going to be helpful in a UK context.”

Mr Bradnock also posed the question that in the long term, with welfare issues being covered by regulations coming out of Brussels, “what’s the relevance of FAWC going forward? It’s the stated policy of the Cabinet Office not to gold plate EU regulations”.

While the BPC was in broad agreement with many of the recommendations in the FAWC report, he expressed particular concern about proposals for handling prior to stunning (see info panel).

He had doubts about whether breast comforters could be used to give greater support to birds.

More crucially the call for inverting and shackling systems to be phased out in the longer term was a major worry.

“If that is the goal, no one is going to invest now in more welfare-friendly shackle design. Also, trying to implement alternatives can bring more welfare problems than you are trying to solve,” he said.

Furthermore, the Commission regulations did not propose to ban water bath stunning: “By the time DEFRA reports back, we will probably have an EU regulation that has decided on the opposite.”

Although effective gas systems were available and being further developed, they were not a viable prospect for small poultry producers with low throughput.

FAWC GUIDELINES FOR PRE-SLAUGHTER

Short term:

  • Workers on the shackle line should be effectively trained
  • Give extra support such as a breast comforter
  • Period while conscious as short as possible
  • Geese and turkeys should not be inverted and shackled unsupported

Medium term:

  • Improve design and layout of lines with emphasis on welfare

Long term:

  • Pre-slaughter inversion and shackling of all poultry should be phased out