From: Reuters
Published September 16, 2008 10:33 AM

EU looks at updating animal slaughter standards

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Slaughterhouses across the European Union may soon have to change the way they stun and kill millions of cattle, pigs and poultry as EU regulators seek to tighten the rules and improve animal protection.

Every year, nearly 360 million pigs, sheep, goats and cattle and several billion turkeys and chickens are killed in the EU for their meat. A further 25 million animals are killed for fur and hatcheries also kill around 330 million day-old-chicks.

Welfare and safety regulations governing how this may be done date from 1993 and experts at the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, say they seriously need an overhaul.

"New technologies have been introduced, making some standards obsolete. Animal welfare concerns have grown in our society," the Commission said in a proposal to update the rules.

"Massive killings during animal epidemics have raised questions about the methods used to carry them out," said the text, obtained by Reuters and due to be published on Wednesday.

Standards of animal protection were unequally enforced in the EU's 27 countries with sometimes very unsatisfactory results, it said, adding that poor conditions for animal welfare during slaughter affected consumer attitudes.

Commission experts want to update stunning and killing criteria for slaughterhouses, defining the general parameters for using electricity to knock out animals, for example, or gas for birds. The proposal refers only to farmed animals.

While it does not seek to ban any major method of stunning -- carbon dioxide for pigs and poultry, for example, may still be used despite some scientists' reservations, and using waterbath stunners for poultry will remain permitted -- the proposal does limit the use of certain techniques.

Slaughterhouse operators will see their responsibilities increase, regularly monitoring the efficiency of stunning techniques to ensure animals do not "wake up".

Stricter rules will apply to training, with staff to be certified for a maximum five years before undergoing a review, for example. EU governments will also have to set up research centers to provide support to slaughterhouse inspectors.

EU ministers are expected to debate the proposal later this year. The Commission text said that, once they became law, the updated regulations would not only lead to better animal protection but also improve meat quality and guarantee better health and safety at work for those employed in slaughterhouses.

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