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.

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LAPS system to stun poultry is not allowed within the EU

There are two different approaches utilize Nitrogen to stun and kill animals: 1) rendering poultry unconscious – causing Anoxia – by placing poultry in foam filled with >98% Nitrogen (the Anoxia method), and 2) rendering poultry unconscious by gradually reducing oxygen tension in the atmosphere leading to progressive hypoxia in the birds (the LAPS method).

The Anoxia method, using a high concentration of Nitrogen under atmospheric circumstances is permitted under EU 1099/2009. The LAPS method is not permitted in the EU. In order to be allowed in the EU, new stunning methods must ensure a level of welfare at least equivalent to that of the methods already provided in Council Regulation 1099/2009.

The EFSA‟s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW Panel) was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the use of a low atmosphere pressure system (LAPS) for stunning poultry. Four documents were provided by the European Commission (EC) as the basis for an assessment of the extent to which the LAPS is able to provide a level of animal welfare at least equivalent to that ensured by the current allowed methods for stunning poultry.

The LAPS is described as rendering poultry unconscious by gradually reducing oxygen tension in the atmosphere leading to progressive hypoxia in the birds. In order to be allowed in the EU, new stunning methods must ensure 1) absence of pain, distress and suffering until the onset of unconsciousness, and 2) that the animal remains unconscious until death.

The submitted studies were peer-reviewed by the AHAW Panel as outlined in its “Guidance on the assessment criteria for studies evaluating the effectiveness of stunning intervention regarding animal protection at the time of killing”.

It is unclear from the submitted documents whether the rate of decompression used in LAPS induces unconsciousness and death without causing avoidable pain and suffering in poultry. The assessed studies did not pass the eligibility assessment and, therefore, no further assessment was undertaken.

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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.

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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.

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Lotta Berg: Poultry Emergency Euthanasia

Outbreaks of animal diseases are well documented throughout modern history. Major outbreaks have damaging consequences for animal welfare, for the industry and often cause major disruptions in food supply, especially within the poultry industry. In order to avoid these consequences, killing methods and techniques have been developed to kill poultry on farm, as well as development dedicated emergency plans, guidelines, procedures to shoulder efforts to reduce and prevent large-scale outbreaks.

Despite all these efforts in the past, outbreaks continue to occur. New, integrated methods for culling and disposal must be developed to combat outbreaks that cannot be mitigated or prevented by vaccination. These methods should be capable of supporting large-scale, quick culling campaigns and cadaver disposals without further spreading of diseases, transfer to humans, or putting a liability on the environment. In the EU, although Regulation 1099/2009 covers culling operations, the present techniques often are not compliant, or are often applied in an improper way.

On March 17, 2014, Dr. Lotta Berg, one of Europe’s leading experts in this field and Swedens’ representative within the European Food Safety Authority EFSA, presented at Neiker Tecnalia in Victoria-Gasteiz (Spain) her vision on emergency response, referring to the EU Directive EU 1099/2009. She covered in her presentation the following subjects:

• Different types of poultry and poultry production
• Reasons for euthanasia
• Large‐scale emergencies
• Contingency planning
• Monitoring animal welfare at on‐farm killing
• Critical points, follow‐up and reporting
• Different methods in practice
• Non‐emergency euthanasia

Dr. Berg concluded in her presentation that the Anoxia technique (N2 gas foam) is applicable for killing poultry on small-, medium- and large-scale poultry operations.

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Animal Health Crisis Management and Disease Control in Asia

At the invitation of DG SANCO, EFSA participated in the context of the Shanghai Expo 2010 in China to the Sino-European Food Safety Cooperation Forum, to the Seminar on Research for Healthy life and to the Securing Food Safety for a Healthy Life Day from 4 to 11 June.

Former Chief Veterinary Officer of FAO, Mr. Joseph Domenech delivered a lecture on Animal Health Crisis Management in with respect to Avian Influenza Control in Asia. The event was organised as part of the Better Training for Safer Food programme, which aims to train staff in Member States and Third Countries in official controls on food. The forum provided presentations and lectures by staff of the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority and Member States.

Lectures were also given by representatives of the Chinese General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture.

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OIE animal welfare killing of poultry for disease control

In January 2012, the OIE gave in Japan an update on the latest developments in killing animals for disease control purposes. The Anoxia method was one of the presented techniques. Today, one year later, the Anoxia technique is commercially available worldwide. Inhumane killing of animals is not longer necessary and the risks of getting infected has been reduced to a minimum.

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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.

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Korea discovers first CSF outbreak in four years

Pig Progress Dec 2, 2013. South Korea’s first outbreak of Classical Swine Fever (CSF) in four years has led to the culling of a herd of 300 pigs, reports the Organization of Animal Health (OIE). The previous outbreak dated from April 2009, the OIE states. This time the outbreak was confirmed at a rearing farm in Siran-dong, in the province Gyeongsangnam-do, on the south coast of the Korean peninsula. The infection was discovered on November 27 – one day later the OIE was informed. In total, four out of 300 pigs were found infected and as a result, all pigs were destroyed.The location of the outbreak can be seen on the interactive map included in the OIE report.

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EU ban on conventional cages and its consequences on egg production

“The EU Legislators did not fully consider what impacts the banning of conventional cages would have on the future development of egg production and the resulting egg deficit.” With this quote of Professor Hans Windhorst underlined in an interview with Terry Evans (ThePoultrySite, 2009) what he had predicted during his presentation at the ISAH meeting in St. Malo, France in 2004.

Given the ongoing discussions on cage systems in othe parts of the word, Professor Windhorst expert opinion (although expressed in 2009) is still extremely interesting.

He pointed out that the switch from conventional cages to enriched cages, floor management or free-range systems would inevitably lead to higher production costs. Economists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have shown that production costs in enriched cages would increase by some eight per cent over those of conventional cages. In the German small colony system, the extra costs would be of the order of 10 per cent, while switching to the barn system in the Netherlands would result in costs rising by 21 per cent.

“On the cost of switching away from conventional cages, an investment as high as €6.1 billion would be required. In Germany alone, some €612 million would be needed to meet the existing legal regulations by the end of 2009.”

He believes that it is not realistic to assume that this capital would be available under present financial and economic conditions, and he wonders how the EU would react when the member countries failed to fulfil the requirements of the Directive.

He observed that it was obvious that legislators in the EU as well as at the country level in Germany did not fully consider what impacts the banning of conventional cages would have on the future development of egg production and the resulting egg deficit.

Because German retailers would not stock eggs from the small colony system, large egg producers in that country realised that they would not be able to switch to floor management systems by the end of 2009.

This would result in “Financial losses for production companies, higher consumer prices and increasing imports of shell eggs and egg products,” Professor Windhorst concluded in his interview with ThePoultrySite in 2009.

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