The relevance of the farming community regarding zoonoses

During the EFSA’s Stakeholder Consultative meeting in Parma on Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th June 2011, EFS interacted with the stakeholders on EFSA’s scientific activities and the outlook of the future activities involving the stakeholders.

Annette TOFT presented the opinion of the European farmers and agricultural cooperatives COPA – COGECA, stressing the relevance of zoonoses questions to farmers and agri – cooperatives activities.


EFSA (AHAW) report on monitoring procedures at poultry slaughterhouses

The EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) was asked to deliver scientific opinions on monitoring procedures at slaughterhouses for different animal species, stunning methods and slaughter without stunning. AHAW agreed that, although it is traditional to look for outcomes of unconsciousness in poultry following stunning, the risk of poor welfare can be detected better if bird welfare monitoring is focused on detecting consciousness, i.e. ineffective stunning or recovery of consciousness.
Therefore, the indicators were phrased neutrally (e.g. corneal reflex) and the outcomes were phrased either suggesting unconsciousness (e.g. absence of corneal reflex) or suggesting consciousness (e.g. presence of corneal reflex). This approach is commonly used in animal health studies (e.g. testing for the presence of a disease) but very new to animal welfare monitoring in slaughterhouses.
A toolbox of selected indicators is proposed to check for signs of consciousness in poultry after stunning with waterbaths or gas mixtures; a different toolbox of indicators is proposed for confirming death of the birds following slaughter without stunning.


EFSA report: Unlikely that the percussive blow-to-the-head method will be allowed to slaughter animals

New methods have to be developed to replace brute-force methods like smashing animals with their head against the wall. And these methods have to be approved by EFSA. This is one of the important conclusions after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a public consultation to receive input from the scientific community and all interested parties on the Draft Guidance on the assessment criteria for studies evaluating the effectiveness of stunning interventions regarding animal protection at the time of killing.

The guidance was prepared by the EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW Panel) and endorsed by the Panel for public consultation by written procedure on 10 July 2013. The written public consultation for this document was open from 15 July 2013 to 18 September 2013.

The current report summarizes the outcome of the public consultation, and includes a brief summary of the comments received and how they were addressed. The AHAW Panel prepared an updated version of the Guidance on the assessment criteria for studies evaluating the effectiveness of stunning interventions regarding animal protection at the time of killing that takes into account the questions and comments received.

One comment referred to a project regarding stunning piglets and goat kids by concussion (blow-at-the-head method):

“We have funded a research project looking at stunning piglets and goat kids by concussion as this is not currently permitted by 1099/2009, however has been common practice within industry on farm in the past –given that this opinion considers LAPS, should it also include concussion by a blow to the head? We are not aware of results at this stage, therefore I cannot comment on whether we will request in the future EFSA to review this method for inclusion” (Page 6).

The same comment was made, referring to concussion:

“We have funded a research project looking at stunning piglets and goat kids by concussion as this is not currently permitted by 1099/2009 however it has been common practice within industry on farm in the past – given that this opinion considers LAPS should it also include concussion by a blow to the head? We are not aware of results at this stage therefore I cannot comment on whether we will request in the future EFSA to review this method for inclusion” (Page 13).

EFSA Replies to this question as follows:

“The criteria and rules defined in this document apply also to back-up stunning methods used in slaughterhouses. While no detailed eligibility criteria for interventions other than those already defined in the Regulation can be provided in this document, the intervention has to be reported in sufficient detail and the outcome eligibility criteria must be fulfilled.”


“The guidance considers all new or modified legal stunning interventions and back-up stunning interventions used at slaughter known to the AHAW Panel at the initiation of the mandate.”

This means that if the percussive blow-to-the-head method should become a legal method of killing or slaughter – other than as a back-up method – it has to undergo the same procedures as all killing and slaughter methods. That means the final end to the blow-on-the-head slaughter method. After the introduction of EU 1099/2009 it is no longer allowed as method to slaughter piglets, male sheep and goats, rabbits and chickens (with up to 5 kg live weight).


EFSA paper on monitoring procedures at slaughterhouses

The objective of this review was to summarize the currently available data describing the sensitivity and specificity of indicators of unconsciousness and death in the following stun-kill methods and species combinations:

1) Penetrative captive bolt for bovine animals
2) Head-only electrical stunning for pigs
3) Head-only electrical stunning for sheep and goats
4) Electrical waterbath for poultry (chickens and turkeys)
5) Carbon dioxide at high concentration for pigs
6) All authorized gas methods to slaughter chickens and turkeys (carbon dioxide at high concentration, carbon dioxide in two phases, carbon dioxide associated with inert gases and inert gases alone)
7) Slaughter without stunning for bovine animals
8) Slaughter without stunning for sheep and goats
9) Slaughter without stunning for chickens and turkeys

The reference tests for unconsciousness and death were to have been measured using electroencephalography (EEG). The definition of unconsciousness and death based on EEG were not specified, and the definition used by authors was reported. The index tests of interest were a variety of indicators requested by the funding agency such as no corneal reflex and immediate collapse.

The index tests differed by stun-kill methods and species combination. A comprehensive search identified 22 publications contained 24 species-stun/kill method combinations.

No studies explicitly reported the sensitivity and specificity of the indicators in conscious and unconscious animals. Many studies reported the proportion of stunned animals with indicators, rather than the proportion of unconscious or conscious animals at a set time point with the indicators. Such data could not be translated into sensitivity and specificity.

Other studies reported the average time to occurrence of an indicator or average time to cessation of the indicators. Such data cannot be translated into sensitivity and specificity estimates without knowledge of the joint distributions.


EFSA Guidance on assessment new stunning & slaughter methods

This guidance defines the assessment process and the criteria that will be applied by the Animal Health and Welfare Panel to studies on known new or modified legal stunning interventions to determine their suitability for further assessment.

The criteria that need to be fulfilled are eligibility criteria, reporting quality criteria and methodological quality criteria. The eligibility criteria are based upon the legislation and previously published scientific data. They focus on the intervention and the outcomes of interest, i.e. immediate onset of unconsciousness and insensibility or absence of avoidable pain, distress and suffering until the loss of consciousness and sensibility, and duration of the unconsciousness and insensibility (until death).

If a study fulfils the eligibility criteria, it will be assessed regarding a set of reporting quality criteria that are based on the REFLECT and the STROBE statements. As a final step in this first assessment phase, the methodological quality of the submitted study will be assessed. If the criteria regarding eligibility, reporting quality and methodological quality are fulfilled, a full assessment of the animal welfare implications of the proposed alternative stunning intervention, including both pre-stunning and stunning phases, and an evaluation of the quality, strength and external validity of the evidence presented would be carried out at the next level of the assessment.

In the case that the criteria regarding eligibility and reporting quality and methodological quality are not fulfilled, the assessment report of the panel will highlight the shortcomings and indicate where improvements are required before the study can be assessed further. In addition to the assessment criteria, the guidance also specifies general aspects applicable to studies on stunning interventions that should be considered when studying the effectiveness of stunning interventions.


European rabbit production in deep trouble

Because in practice, farmed rabbits get sick, old or cannot be used for scientific testing (up to 1/3 of all farmed test animals cannot be used because they don’t fit the test profile), they have to be killed, either at the slaughterhouse (meat production) or on the farm facility. Up to January 1, 2013, using a high concentration of Co2 killed the rabbits.

That process was declared illegal, after the introduction of EU Directive EU 1099/2009 that only allows the following techniques to kill rabbits:

• Penetrative captive bolt device
• Firearm with free projectile
• Percussive blow to the head
• Lethal injection

All these techniques require an intensive contact between animals and operators. In case of an outbreak, using labor-intensive techniques need to be avoided, based on costs and the risks of spreading through human intervention. So what are the options: A new technique needs to be introduced to the European Food Safety Authority EFSA of the scientific committee of DG SANCO.

However sympathetic the scientific committee thinks about the need to develop a new technique for large-scale killing of rabbits, the industry has to take the initiative to present a complete science-based report, that is conducted according to Guidance on the assessment criteria for studies evaluating the effectiveness of stunning interventions regarding animal protection at the time of killing.

The Panel on Animal Health and Welfare was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the use of carbon dioxide for stunning rabbits. Specifically, EFSA was asked to give its view on the findings of the study performed by the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) and the Animal Technology Centre CITA-ITAVIA “Estudio sobre la valoración mediante parámetros técnicos y de manejo del sistema de aturdimiento con gas CO2”. (red: “Study on the assessment by technical parameters and system management with CO2 gas stunning.”).

The answer was not at all satisfactory for the rabbit industry: As a first step, the type of study, critical variables, experimental design, data collection and analysis and reporting methods needed to supply scientific evidence that the use of CO2 is an acceptable alternative for the stunning of rabbits were defined. These criteria were then applied to the study.

The submitted study was not adequate for a full welfare assessment of the alternative method studied because it does not fulfill the eligibility criteria and the reporting quality criteria defined, according to the opinion of the committee. Follow this link to se the entire report. The rabbit industry has to raise sufficient funds to bring forward a complete report, ticking all the boxes, to enable EFSA to review the killing method proposed. First after EFSA is convinced that the proposed method is an improvement, the technique is accepted, meaning that in line with EU 1099/2009 all criteria like training & certification described in EU 1099/2009 need to be in considered as well.

Why is this so significant? Let’s assume that the rabbit industry would like to use the Anoxia method for killing rabbits. The method needs to go through the entire EFSA procedure before it can be applied within the rabbit industry. That would be the best option, but it still include going to the entire process of approval.

This makes it so hard to introduce better and more animal welfare friendly techniques like the Anoxia method to be applied within the EU. The rabbit industry is relatively small, but they have to fulfill the rules within the directive, if not, it will be the end of this industry if they do not come up with a solution that is validated and approved by EFSA.


DG SANCO study on the various methods of stunning poultry

The purpose of the study (published December 2012) was to investigate the scale of the use of multiple-bird water bath stunners, the possible alternatives and their respective socio-economic and environmental impacts. Additionally, the study had to examine if phasing out the use of water bath stunning as recommended by EFSA is a feasible option and, if so, under which terms.

It is estimated that there are around 5,300 commercial slaughterhouses in the EU, the majority of which are found in France. Where available, data on slaughterhouse capacity suggest significant differences between Member States in terms of individual capacity. This is reflected by the concentration of slaughterhouse sectors within Member States with a highly concentrated sector in some Member States such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy and a less concentrated sector in other Member States such as Spain, Poland and Hungary. EU slaughterhouses slaughtered around 5.81 billion broiler chickens and had an estimated economic output between €30.6 to €32.5 billion in 2011.

It was estimated that some 16,000 staff handle live birds across the EU at present. Approximately half of these work in Member States where formal training is required by national law. Just under half work in Member States where there are no formal training requirements, though it is probable that on the job training is provided in some of these Member States.
The majority of poultry in the EU is stunned using multiple bird waterbaths. More precisely:

• 81% of broilers are stunned using waterbaths; 9% using CAS
• 83% of end of lay hens are stunned using waterbaths; 7% using CAS
• 61% of parent stock using waterbaths, and 37% using CAS
• 76% of turkeys are stunned using waterbaths, and 24% using CAS.

The most important driver behind the choice of stunning system is installation and running cost, which is cheapest for waterbath systems. Product quality and revenue is also important with certain stunning systems providing quality advantages for specific end markets which often result in higher revenue, for example for breast fillets resulting from CAS stunning. Other drivers of system choice include access to capital and slaughterhouse size with CAS systems requiring higher investment costs and being most cost effective at higher throughputs.
The costs of stunning systems were compared through a cost model using a number of simplifying assumptions where necessary. The following factors were included in the cost model:

• Installation cost depreciated over a 10 year period
• Annual maintenance cost
• Labor for reception and hanging, and other labor used in the stunning process
• Water for stunning and cleaning
• Electricity for stunning; and, gas for stunning;
The main data sources used were:
o Aggregated estimates of equipment manufacturers (45% weighting)
o Results of the slaughterhouse survey (45% weighting)
o Data from literature and other sources (10% weighting)

Waterbath stunning was found to be the cheapest stunning method, and CAS the most expensive. The highest cost difference between waterbath and CAS is around 1.5 cents per bird. Slaughterhouses with low throughputs (3,000-6,000 birds per hour) present the largest costs difference compared to slaughterhouses with high throughput (12,000 birds per hour with a difference of around 1 cent).

The impact on revenue of different stunning systems is highly dependent on the end market. Three potential mechanisms for higher revenue were identified: access to higher value markets; higher revenue for better quality; and, reduction in losses through trimming and the cost of trimming.

There has been very limited investigation into the impact of different stunning methods on quality. Evidence generally suggests that damage to breast and leg meat is higher with waterbath stunning. In contrast, damage to wing tips and skin is generally lower with waterbath stunning.

In the case of the fresh breast fillet market, it was estimated that losses through trimming and downgrading of the breast could be between €0.011 and €0.052 per bird.

The feasibility of phasing out multiple bird waterbath stunners 

It is considered that, under the baseline, there will be a slight reduction in the use of waterbath systems and increase in the use of CAS systems in the short-to-medium term (two to five years). It is estimated that the proportion of broilers stunned using waterbaths will fall from 79% at present to around 65%, while the proportion of broilers stunned with CAS systems will increase from 21% to around 35%. There will be significant differences between Member States, with no changes in stunning system in some Member States, and significant changes in others.

A complete mandatory ban on waterbaths was considered difficult. There would be positive aspects of a ban; from a political perspective, it would bring the industry into line with the 2004 recommendation of EFSA, and in social terms there would be a positive impact on animal welfare.

However, there were considered to be significant potential negative impacts and problems. Mandatory phasing out would have strong economic impacts on operators, and these would be accentuated for smaller slaughterhouses due to the technological issue of the current lack of commercial alternatives to waterbath stunning systems. It may also be difficult to make changes to a regulatory framework, which was only recently modified. Furthermore, there may be some negative social impacts if consolidation in the sector were to accelerate as a result of such a mandatory phasing out.


EFSA Scientific report on animal health and welfare aspects of Avian Influenza

In 2005 the Eurpean Commission asks the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to review 2000 and 2003 scientific pinions (SCAHAW, 2000 and 2003) on avian influenza in the light of more recent scientific data.

The EFSA scientific opinion should in particular describe:

1. an assessment of the risk of the introduction, and possible secondary spread, of LPAI and HPAI into the EU via different commodities, such as live poultry, ornamental birds, hatching eggs, table eggs, fresh poultry and other poultry products. In addition the scientific opinion should describe the risk factors for disease introduction into poultry holdings and surveillance tools and procedures available for early detection of AI in poultry holdings in relation to those risks;

2. the role of “backyard” poultry flocks in the epidemiology of avian influenza and available disease control tools for this specific population;

3. the risk of disease transmission between certain avian species in particular with respect to pigeons and anseriformes;

4. the risk of virus persistence in poultry manure and farm waste and a description of the possible inactivation and disinfection procedures that could be applied to these materials;

5. the animal welfare aspects of avian influenza including the implications of the different control strategies.


Rabbit farming: Animal welfare management according to EU 1099/2009

Rabbit farming is a small-scale industry that does not have a major national or international representative organisation in most of the EU countries. Over 76% of the total production in the EU is in Italy, Spain and France, and home production is still widespread. The production of jointed and processed products is increasing rapidly compared with whole carcase sales and rabbit meat consumption, although less than other meats, is still significant in some countries.


CSR as most effective strategy to implement EU Directive 1099/2009 on farms

On January 19, 2012, EFSA published their assessment report on the new Directive EU 1099/2009. According to our vision, Corporate Social Responsibility CSR is probably the most important part of the EU strategy to implement the directive on farm level. Retailers who included animal welfare in their corporate strategy proved that that enforcing this strategy throughout the entire production chain (including farmers) can be extremely successful to underline what their customers demand. By doing so, these pro-active retailers have a bigger impact on implementing animal welfare that branch organizations of veterinary services.