Abstracts: A scientific comment on the welfare of domesticated ruminants slaughtered without stunning

This review provides a scientific comment on the welfare of ruminants slaughtered by ventral-neck incision without stunning.

Evidence is derived from studies of calves, sheep and goats. Reference is also made to findings in other mammals including humans. Pain is an inherently subjective experience and only indirect indices are available in animals. Neurophysiological tools are widely used in humans to assess pain and have demonstrated that electroencephalographic (EEG) variables correlate well with subjective evaluations of pain. These neurophysiological tools have also been applied in animal studies. In humans pain is associated with major cutting injuries and it is widely accepted that farm animals also experience pain due to such injuries. Overwhelming international scientific opinion has long been that slaughter by neck incision of conscious animals causes pain. A series of studies in calves demonstrated that slaughter by ventral-neck incision is likely to be perceived as painful. It is proposed that, as in cattle, non-stunned sheep and goats would experience pain in a similar manner. The precise assessment of the point after slaughter at which non-stunned animals become insensible remains a major methodological challenge. In sheep it is at least 2-8 seconds, but may be 8-20 seconds in duration. In cattle the mean duration is similar, but can commonly be extended to longer than 60 seconds with occasional instances of even greater durations. Taken together, these findings indicate that because the slaughter of cattle, sheep and goats by ventral-neck incision without prior stunning is likely to cause pain, this poses a risk to animal welfare.

The study is from the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre (AWSBC), Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Johnson CB, Mellor DJ, Hemsworth PH, Fisher AD. NZ Vet J 2015; 63(1): 58-65. Note: this edition of the journal is dedicated to animal welfare reviews.