England’s Green MEPs have written to the EU Commission expressing their grave concerns at the painful and distressing stunning they believe many pigs experience before slaughter.

Around 250 million pigs are slaughtered each year in the EU and the MEPs, together with animal welfare groups, are calling for urgent EU and industry research into more humane methods of stunning.

Molly Scott Cato, MEP for the South West, said:

“I am extremely worried that so many pigs are experiencing ineffective, painful stunning before slaughter. I am convinced, as are many animal welfare organisations, that there are more humane alternatives to those currently being used which could be introduced at minimal additional costs.”

Currently, pig stunning is limited to electrical stunning and the use of high concentrations of carbon dioxide. Animal welfare groups say that while electrical stunning can lead to quick and effective loss of consciousness, pigs are highly stressed at being separated from their groups for stunning, and this can regularly lead to poor handling and the need to use force. In addition, they say, electrical stunning may in some cases be ineffective due to improper placement of equipment. While stunning with CO2 can allow pigs to remain in groups, the high concentrations of the acidic gas have been shown to cause panic, pain and gasping, which can last for 60 seconds before loss of consciousness.

In their letter to the Commission, the MEPs call for alternative methods to be explored including ‘two-phase carbon dioxide’, where a low CO2 concentration is used followed by a higher one after loss of consciousness. In reply, the Commission has said that developing alternative methods of stunning is ‘complex and multidimensional’ and is primarily the responsibility of the meat industry, equipment manufacturers and Member States’ research institutions. Dr Scott Cato who is a member of the Agricultural Committee in the European Parliament concluded:

“We need a stronger response from the Commission than this. It’s clear that without putting pressure on industry and governments for more humane alternatives for stunning pigs, the EU will fail to enforce its own high standards on animal welfare during slaughter.”

Greens have also renewed their call for mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses to act as a deterrent to cruel treatment of animals and provide evidence of animal abuse. They point to undercover footage that has revealed significant animal suffering in UK slaughterhouses.

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