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Position Statement on Humane Killing

The BC SPCA believes that the methods used to kill any animal must be humane. The BC SPCA can only consider a method of animal killing to be humane if it either kills an animal instantly or it first renders the animal insensible to pain until death ensues.

The handling methods, equipment and facilities used must also ensure that animal fear, pain and anxiety are kept to absolutely minimal levels prior to and during killing.

Approved by the Board of Directors – July 2012

Background

In reference to slaughter of farm animals, it is imperative for animals to be rendered unconscious and insensible to pain prior to slaughter, notwithstanding religious or ethnic custom. The stunning method used to achieve insensibility must meet provincial and federal regulatory requirements, and must be capable of consistently rendering an animal insensible on the first attempt. Every animal must be checked for sensibility after stunning and prior to delivery of the final killing step (e.g., bleed out).

No more than 1% of animals should require a second attempt to render them unconscious. Should the first attempt fail, a second stun must be delivered immediately after the first attempt. A backup stunning device must be available within immediate reach, in case the primary stunning device fails. When checking for sensibility, a variety of signs should be observed¹.

While respecting individual religious or cultural practices, scientific evidence indicates there are greater risks of animal suffering during ritual slaughter conducted without prior stunning (e.g., kosher or halal) than for conventional slaughter2,3,4,5,6. These methods are distressing to the animal due to:

  • the increased restraint necessary;
  • pain experienced during the throat cutting procedure; and
  • pain and stress experienced by the conscious animal during subsequent bleeding out.

Stunning the animal immediately after the initial cut is made may mitigate some, but not all, of these concerns.

In order to minimise animal stress and ensure accurate and effective stunning, any slaughter facility must be designed to allow calm handling and effective and appropriate restraint of the species being killed. Employees handling live animals must be trained in low-stress animal handling techniques and must never physically or psychologically abuse an animal. Employees conducting stunning and killing must be trained in approved techniques and provided with sufficient relief to avoid fatigue. All stunning equipment must be used in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and regularly maintained to ensure effective stunning occurs.

Government inspectors, facility employees and independent auditors should conduct scoring of animal welfare indicators such as vocalisation, electric prod use, instances of slipping or falling, stun efficacy and post-stun sensibility to ensure regulatory and industry standards are met and to encourage continuous improvement.

Background updated – July 2012

References

1 A full description of signs of sensibility can be found in the OIE Guidelines for the Slaughter of Animals (available at www.oie.int) and the American Meat Institute’s Animal Handling Guidelines (available at www.meatami.com).

2 Gibson TJ, Johnson CB, Murrell JC, Hulls CM, Mitchinson SL, Stafford KJ, Johnstone AC and Mellor DJ 2009a Electroencephalographic responses of halothane-anaesthetised calves to slaughter by ventral-neck incision without prior stunning. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 57: 77-83

3 Gibson TJ, Johnson CB, Murrell JC, Chambers JP, Stafford KJ and Mellor DJ 2009b Components of electroencephalographic responses to slaughter in halothane-anaesthetised calves: Effects of cutting neck tissues compared with major blood vessels. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 57: 84-89

4 Gibson TJ, Johnson CB, Murrell JC, Mitchinson SL, Stafford KJ and Mellor DJ 2009c Electroencephalographic responses to concussive non-penetrative captive-bolt stunning in halothane-anaesthetised calves. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 57: 90-95

5 Gibson TJ, Johnson CB, Murrell JC, Mitchinson SL, Stafford KJ and Mellor DJ 2009d Amelioration of electroencephalographic responses to slaughter by non-penetrative captive-bolt stunning after ventral-neck incision in halothane-anaesthetised calves. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 57: 96-101

6 Mellor DJ, Gibson TJ and Johnson CB 2009 A re-evaluation of the need to stun calves prior to slaughter by ventral-neck incision: An introductory review. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 57: 74-76

Definitions

Anxiety: A negative emotion experienced in response to uncertainty about one’s environment. Animals experience anxiety most often in new and unfamiliar situations and respond by heightening their vigilance in order to assess the potential for danger. The posture of an anxious animal varies by species.

Distress: A severe negative affective state caused by physical and/or psychological factors. Physical distress may arise when an animal is hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, diseased, injured or in pain to an elevated degree. Psychological distress may arise when an animal experiences fear, anxiety, frustration, depression or anger to an elevated degree.

When used in a legal context¹ by animal protection officers and veterinarians:

“An animal is in distress if it is
(a) deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment,
(a.1) kept in conditions that are unsanitary
(a.2) not protected from excessive heat or cold,
(b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
(c) abused or neglected.”

¹ Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 372 (Section 12:1)

Fear: A negative emotion experienced in response to perceived danger or threat, usually accompanied by a physiological stress response.

Humane: Actions that promote good welfare and minimize suffering.

Humane killing: A method that ensures an animal is either killed instantly or that involves rendering an animal insensible to pain until death ensues.

Insensible: Lacking sensory perception or ability to react to a stimulus.

Pain: An unpleasant sensation generally felt in response to injury, disease or other forms of physical harm.

Stress: The physiological response to a stimulus in order to help an animal cope with his/her environment. The stress response can be associated with either positive emotions (e.g., excitement, arousal) or negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, frustration), depending upon the nature of the stimulus or the animal’s perception of that stimulus.

Suffering: An enduring negative affective state. Suffering is associated with feelings such as pain, hunger, fear and anxiety. All sentient beings are capable of suffering.

Welfare: An animal’s quality of life. An animal’s welfare depends upon both his/her physical health and affective state.

Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs, and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (e.g., pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear and frustration).