The welfare of farm animals at slaughter

The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 governs the welfare of animals at slaughter.

When do the regulations apply?

The Regulations apply in relation to the movement, “lairaging” (the keeping of an animal in a stall, pen, covered area or field used by a slaughterhouse or knacker’s yard for the purpose of confining or attending to the animal until it is slaughtered or killed), restraint, stunning, slaughter and killing of animals bred or kept for the production of meat, skin, fur or other products.

The Regulations also apply to the killing of animals for the purpose of disease control and to the killing of surplus chicks and embryos.

The Regulations do not apply to animals bred or kept for the purpose of experimentation or scientific procedures, to animals killed during sporting events or to the killing of wild game.

Prohibited acts

The Regulations prohibits the following acts:

  • causing or permitting any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering to an animal;
  • the movement, lairaging, restraint, stunning, slaughter or killing of an animal by a person who does not have the knowledge and skill necessary to perform such tasks humanely and efficiently.

Obligations of occupiers of slaughterhouses and knacker’s yards

Occupiers of slaughterhouses and knacker’s yards are required to:

  • ensure that there is a person available on the premises, at all times when there are live animals there, who is competent and authorised to take whatever action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the animals;
  • ensure that any person involved in the activities to which the Regulations relate is familiar with the Regulations and any relevant welfare codes, has access to any relevant welfare code and has received adequate training in these respects;
  • hold a licence, where one is required;
  • ensure that their premises are adequately constructed, equipped and maintained;
  • ensure that animals are properly moved, lairged, restrained, stunned before slaughter, killed, bled or “pithed” (stunned in a manner in which they will not regain consciousness).

There are detailed requirements relating to the construction, equipment and maintenance of slaughterhouses and knacker’s yards and relating to the animals awaiting slaughter or killing, restraint of animals before stunning, slaughter or killing, the stunning or killing of animals other than animals reared for fur, the bleeding or pithing of animals, the killing of pigs and birds by exposure to gas mixtures, the slaughter or killing of horses in slaughterhouses and knackers’ yards and in relation to slaughter by religious methods.

Obligations where animals are slaughtered or killed in places other than slaughterhouses and knacker’s yards

Where animals are slaughtered or killed in placed other than slaughterhouses and knackers yards, those involved are required to:

  • ensure that animals are properly restrained, stunned before slaughter, killed, bled or pithed;
  • in the case of occupiers and persons in charge of premises at which birds are offered or exposed for sale prior to being slaughtered, to ensure that the birds are placed in accommodation in which they are able, without difficulty, to stand upright, turn around and stretch their wings and to ensure that they are provided with a sufficient supply of wholesome food and clean drinking water.

These requirements do not, however, apply to animals which have to be killed immediately for emergency welfare reasons and the requirements are relaxed where certain animals are killed by their owner for private consumption.

There are detailed requirements relating to the restraint of animals before stunning, slaughter or killing, stunning or killing of animals other than animals reared for fur, bleeding or pithing of animals, slaughter or killing methods for the purposes of disease control, methods of killing fox and mink, killing of surplus chicks and embryos in hatchery waste and in relation to slaughter by religious methods.

Powers of inspectors

Inspectors appointed by Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have the following powers:

  • to enter slaughterhouses and knacker’s yards and any land or premises (other than private dwellings) to ensure that the Regulations are being complied with;
  • to carry out any necessary checks and examinations for the purpose of enforcing the Regulations;
  • to take samples from animals, carcases and parts of carcases;
  • to take away carcases and parts of carcases;
  • to require a person to produce any relevant records or documents;
  • to inspect, take copies of and take away any relevant records or documents.

It is a criminal offence to intentionally obstruct an inspector or to, without reasonable cause, fail to co-operate any reasonable requests of an inspector for assistance or information or to knowingly provide an inspector with false or misleading information.

Contravention of the regulations

Subject to certain defences, it is a criminal offence to contravene the Regulations, punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment, and where an offence is committed by a company or organisation, the officers of that company or organisation can be held liable.