Every year around 400 million pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle as well as 4 billion poultry are killed for food consumption in the EU alone. While most consumers care not to think about how the animal protein got on their plates, directives have been made to make the animal’s slaughter as humane as possible. James Chappelow, MPJ’s technical editor, reports

Billions of people eat meat and for many, it is the main source of their protein. Indeed, meat eating is embedded as a cultural norm. In the developed world, it is impossible to avoid cooking shows on TV, it is easy to find recipes on the Internet, and bookshops are stuffed with the works of celebrity chefs. Some space is made for vegetarians and vegans, but meat is undoubtedly the star of the show.

Alongside this our sensibilities have become highly tuned to the treatment of animals. When asked, the vast majority agree that animals should be treated humanely, not least at the point of slaughter. There is widespread sympathy for the work of the many organizations world-wide that focus of the proper treatment of all animals. Within the meat industry, it has long been accepted that animal welfare has a positive impact not only on meat quality, but also on the safety of slaughterhouse operatives.

Yet still, the majority remain completely ignorant of what happens in the slaughterhouse. If the chicken is “Free Range” or “Farm Assured” then all is right with the world. If it is thought about at all, then the slaughterhouse itself conjures up 19th century images of animals suffering, a sea of gore and the drunken carelessness of a brutish workforce. Better not to think about it. Baa-baa-lambs gambol in the fields; roast lamb comes out of the oven.

In truth, the modern slaughterhouse is very different and improvements are being demanded world-wide. Regulations – with full legal backing – have been put in place and are updated in all advanced economies. The most recent directive reviewing EU regulations highlights the high level of importance that is now given to animal welfare issues at the point of slaughter, although some countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands can put in their own even tougher standards, such as not allowing halal or kosher slaughter.

EU regulations followed the adoption by the Commission of the first Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals in 2006. A number of key principles were set out in this legislation such as having faster implementation of changes due to scientific and technical progress. The writers of the act believe slaughterhouse operators should take real ownership of animal welfare with self-checks on stunning procedure and the adoption of standard operating procedures. Education and training should be improved to make animal welfare better understood and integrated in the daily tasks of workers, and there should be animal welfare officers in slaughterhouses.

Jarvis Poultry Stunner

Standards should be established for the construction and equipment of slaughterhouses. Plus, there should be regular inspections and certificate of competences should be required by the slaughterhouse operatives.

The issue of stunning was examined in detail by the Commission. This is the point during slaughter that is most problematic and over which most care has to be taken. Based on the expert scientific advice and taking note of the technology available, the following recommendations were included in the Directive: proper training for operators stunning animals; constant current equipment for electrical stunning; recording system for gas parameters; limiting the use of non-penetrative captive bolt to young lambs; several technical improvements on the shackle line for poultry; and a centralized system for the scientific assessment and approval of new stunning systems.

View from the field

The manufacturers of stunning equipment have their part to play in the process of ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare. As many of the companies offer world-wide sales, the standards that they set comply to the highest governmental regulations and, in doing so, help spread the best practices around the world. Research and development is at the heart of the work of the leading suppliers of equipment for stunning.

Jarvis Products has three new models on the market at present, the USSS-1/2; the AST 106 PAS stunner tester; and a new stunner for poultry.

The USSS-1/2 pneumatic stunner for pork and veal has the following features: pneumatically operated captive bolt stunner which is half the size of the Jarvis USSS-1 stunner; there is no air injection into the animal; USSS-1/2 has duel handles with trigger control making it comfortable to handle and operate; it weighs 7 kg, is solidly constructed, and designed for easy repair and cleaning. Augmenting the USSS-1/2 Stunner is the AST-105 Air Stunner Tester which ensures correct tool calibration bolt velocity after repair and maintenance. According to Jarvis, the AST 106 is a fast and accurate device for measuring bolt speeds on Jarvis’ power actuated stunners. It is easy to use and automatically logs test results. A control box screen uses a simple red/green color display to check bolt velocity.

The new Power Actuated Poultry Stunner is a .22R (5.6mm) non-penetrating, concussion stunner for poultry. It is suitable for chickens, turkeys, ducks/geese, and it renders poultry insensible to pain without penetrating the skull.

In common with most other large stunning equipment manufacturers, Jarvis offers free servicing and, most importantly in view of regulations to improve slaughterhouses, training in the proper use of their equipment.

Accles and Shelvoke  (recently acquired by Frontmatec) has, for over 100 years, managed to combine the production of cartridge powered stunning tools with a commitment to animal welfare. This Birmingham (UK) based company is the world’s largest supplier of cartridge based stunning tools. Right from the formation of the company, James Accles and George Shelvoke were influenced by ideas of animal welfare, especially as publicized by Christopher Cash.

The company have long been ahead of the game in seeing the links – highlighted in the EU Regulations – between less stress to animals, effective stunning, good meat quality, and safety in the slaughterhouse. The company is rightly proud of its high-quality tools. New products are due to be introduced in the near future with the aim that Frontmetic and Accles and Shelvoke will further develop their leading place in the world market for captive bolt equipment. Its leading products are: the Cash Special; Cash Cowpuncher; Cash Magnum, and the Cash small animal tool.

In the field of electronic stunning Freund continue to develop efficient and effective products. Their leading products are the Stun-E512 and the Stun-E514. Both of these products are sold with a range of characteristics. Among these they share: seven stun programs preinstalled and individually adjustable for different animal species/sizes and operating modes; programmable, electronic control of all parameters; and programs for head and heart stun selectable. They all offer full LDC display.

In addition to technical details, the company works to EU Animal Welfare Standards and is keen to emphasize both higher meat quality and a higher yield due to less blood spots and bone fractures. Both products have ways to record data, which has become of increasing importance.

Other companies have developed technologies that complement electrical stunning devices. Carne Technologies of New Zealand launched the Stun Monitor and Logger (CTSML) in 2016. As the name suggests, the CTSML records detailed and extensive stun data. From this it is possible to meet compliance and audit requirements, to check operator performance, and it plays a part in stun operator training. Along with helping in identifying faults, the CTSML will help identify causes of poor stunning and provides instant feedback for operators. In line with other developments in stunning technology, the CTSML can play its part in helping to meet the stunning regulations as, for example, those established by the EU.

The protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing is a matter of public concern. The good news is that through regulation and the constant development of new products with animal welfare in mind, the level of suffering is being minimized. The improved methods of stunning are having an impact in the global meat industry. As new products replace the old so the worn-out image of the slaughterhouse stands a better chance of fading away.