VEGA News Item

Welfare in Slaughter or Killing - 30/08/2006
VEGA comments on a DEFRA consultation due today on the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) to permit the use of gas outside of a slaughterhouse.
VEGA comments on a DEFRA consultation due today on the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) to permit the use of gas outside of a slaughterhouse.

Re: Consultation on amending the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 to permit the use of gas outside of a slaughterhouse

1. We have called before in consultations with DEFRA for objective wording and avoidance of euphemisms in descriptions of the commercial and hobby treatment of non-human animals. “Medium to high throughput” numbers with mentions of flocks of “50,000 plus” translate the scale of killing to apt words such as the enormity of massacre; and “welfare” is a word that should be replaced by phrases such as reducing/lessening suffering/pain/cruelty with due acknowledgement of the toll taken of even healthy animals brutally turned into waste.

2. We lack the physiological knowledge to appraise the suitability of the various gases and mixtures for their dire purposes, although we detect a preference for human convenience and safety and the cost of the procedures. Nonetheless, we deem that the comparative physiology undertaken and being undertaken by veterinary experts is adequate, provided that it can furnish reasons for statutory changes based on evidence that would satisfy assessors of, say, the Home Office as “humane practice”.

3. Compelling evidence damns neck dislocation (wringing or pulling) as fit for classification as a humane procedure. It is definitely impracticable for geese (which are likely to be free range and susceptible to avian flu); and we have no idea that the effects of gases on poultry other than broilers and hens are similar to results on the birds used in experiments.

4. Nor can we translate evidence from human physiology unreservedly to birds although there is abundant experience from reports of German WW2 gas chambers in concentration camps, as well as from anaesthetists and human survivors of hangings and attempted suicides. For suicides, chloroform, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide seem preferred methods of self-killing by gassing, albeit with some environmental objections. Xenon is an inert gas with properties like argon and activity on the brain, but perhaps without the physical properties (e.g. density) for the purposes of massacring commercially-reared birds.

5. There is at present a continuing massacre by gassing of male day-old chicks, for whom “the market has collapsed”. However, they and other culls are “wastes” (biomass) eligible for value-adding as fuel for electricity generating stations or as feed for zoos and other collection of animals. Experiences with gassing of these birds can be adduced in considerations of the massacre of bigger poultry. “Maceration” in a high-speed chopper has also been claimed to induce instant stun-killing and could perhaps be adapted to a larger scale; however, the enormity of such a process would probably daunt even the most remorseless of operatives and degrade the whole ghastly business even further. Gassing satisfies more powerfully the out-of-sight, out-of-mind callousness of human nature. Customers for electrical power might be reminded to enquire whether their supply is organic or environmentally-friendly – or of animal, vegetable, or mineral origin.

Male day-old chicks (FAWN)

6. Dr Harold Hillman of the University of Sussex is a representative for human victims of torture and he has views on the means of slaughtering animals for food. He is a physiologist and might be drawn into the consultations prompted by your despatch.

7. The size of the poultry-industry and the public’s greed for falsely cheap food, accompanied by scant attention to provenance and importation, are evils that DEFRA and SVS should not serve. They prostitute the calling and vows of the veterinary profession. Producers and consumers must not be deceived, e.g. by subsidies and compensations, of the true costs in the quality of life. Your despatch alludes to the high risks in intensified farming methods; BSE and foot-and-mouth are still within regretful memory ad experience. DEFRA is rightly warning producers in the live/deadstock industry that they will have to find insurers willing to cover them for risks to themselves and indemnification against mischief to the public from foreseeable violations of good practice, particularly of virally-caused disasters.

8. Therefore we object to signs of generosity to farmers in connection with services the SVS is, rightly, taking upon itself to command and execute, whatever the consequences suffered by the slaughtering industry, which should insure itself likewise. Retailers should be shamed if they try to circumvent the restrictions by imports; and the public’s complicity in the evils of intensive poultry production and its unsavoury increase much be shaken, The Soil Association is to be praised for its insistence on limits to the size of poultry flocks.

9. Alternatively, the poultry industry must be subjected to levies paying for official services, in the style of the Meat Hygiene Service. Equipment and services for cullings must be available in all areas of intensive production and for dealing with accidents on roads and in fires, as well as in the other crisis described in your despatch. Gassing units abutting egg-laying farms promise some improvements in routine disposal of spent hens and they might provide centres for emergency culls with mobile services and staff. Local authorities must heed environmental principles in permissions and licences for heavy and unrelieved concentrations in their areas. Building and housing should be constructed to suit adaptations for expeditious on site lethal gassing, and preventative methods, such as vaccination, should be given much attention. However, education to the public should be redoubled, e.g. with welfare warnings on foods that authoritatively emphasize the appalling cost of cheap food.

10. We sympathize with the public servants who have the deal with these disgusting matters, especially those who choose in their personal disciplines to forswear any complicity in the workings of the poultry industry and market.  

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