The most complex problems of animal welfare: from extensive farming to stunning

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The industrial approach transformed animal husbandry into “zootechnics” – the science and technology of the exploitation of animal production – and farmers into “agricultural entrepreneurs”. The industrial principles of economies of scale and ubiquitous mechanization have had a strong impact on the living conditions of farm animals, animals that are known to be sentient beings, capable of feeling emotions, suffering and stress and very sensitive physically and psychologically.

The issue of animal welfare cannot be tackled without correctly addressing the most critical phase: slaughter. This particularly delicate process already starts from the loading of the animals ready for transport and includes the time necessary to bring them to the slaughterhouse.

Animals that have lived quite freely, in the open air, as is the case in extensive farming, whether organic or “low-input”, such as those studied by the European PPILOW project and promoted by the Slow Meat campaign – have a particularly low tolerance for loading operations, sharing confined spaces during transport, forced displacement and conventional slaughter methods. It is not surprising that the slaughter phase was identified as one of the most complicated to manage during a study carried out in seven European countries by the PPILOW partnership.

Regulations currently in force (e.g. Council Regulations (EC) No 1/2005 and No 1099/2009) focus on these aspects and require slaughter to follow specific standards with regard to structure and management in order to avoid more stress and suffering in the end. phase of the life of animals that have lived on extensive farms, without excessive confinement.

The EU has also committed to achieving a target of at least 25% of farmland converted to organic certification under the Green Deal’s Farm to Fork strategy.

Currently, Italy has 29,000 organic farms, or just over 6.2% of its total. In the next few years, many farms will be encouraged to convert to organic farming, so the number of free-range and pasture-raised animals will increase in the future. We must therefore expect different behaviors and attitudes from what is currently happening in the intensive system, including during the final stages of slaughter.

There is no doubt that poor management of the later stages of the life of farmed animals can have a negative effect not only ethically, but also technologically, nutritionally and economically.

the Italian Veterinary Bioethics Committee published a document which states that all animals should be stunned so that they undergo “unconscious slaughter”, with the adoption of procedures capable of minimizing their negative emotions, stress and suffering before and throughout the process.

Some strategies developed for this type of slaughter are already available, but not in Italy. Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing gives Member States the possibility to establish national regulations for mobile slaughterhouses in paragraph 40: “Mobile slaughterhouses reduce the need to transport animals over long distances and can therefore contribute to safeguarding animal welfare. However, the technical constraints of mobile slaughterhouses differ from fixed slaughterhouses and the technical rules may need to be adapted accordingly. This means that the current regulations should include the possibility of granting exceptions to mobile slaughterhouses with regard to the rules for the layout, construction and equipment of slaughterhouses. Until such exceptions are adopted, Member States should be allowed to establish or maintain national regulations for mobile slaughterhouses.

In Germany and Austria, for example, on-farm slaughter systems have been developed since the 1980s, in particular thanks to Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 which governs emergency slaughter outside slaughterhouse. This regulation includes the possibility of slaughter on the farm for animals whose condition does not allow them to be transported, in particular to minimize their suffering without reason. They could, for example, have an injury or disease that would make the meat unfit for human consumption.

Another possibility is to compare the slaughter of pigs reared in the wild or semi-wild state with that of farmed game (such as wild boar for example), thus bringing into play the possibility of killing the animals on the farm. This would mean that it would be possible to slaughter them in place, avoiding that these sentient beings have to be loaded, transported and unloaded. To date in Italy, however, a specific authorization from the official veterinarian of the local health council is necessary, and a post-mortem check of the animal must be carried out by an authorized veterinarian. Obviously, this makes everything more complicated. In France, a association breeders and experts is working to obtain authorization for on-farm slaughter. Slow Food screened a French documentary exploring the initiative, A link that elevates us, at Fromage.

Since April 2019, a French decree established that trials of mobile slaughterhouses can be carried out to verify their feasibility. In 2023, after four years of such tests, the official approval of a mobile system will be discussed depending on the results.

Things are also changing in Italy. Tenuta di Paganico, a farm that belongs to the Sentinel of Maremmane cattle Slow Food, has been organically raising Maremmana cattle and Cinta Senese pigs in wild conditions for years and currently slaughters its animals approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the farm. The farm sought a technical solution that would allow it to take charge of the entire production process, protecting and preserving the exceptional quality of the products obtained through free-range breeding while respecting health and safety regulations. current security. He presented a pilot project within the framework of Measure 16.2 “Support for pilot projects and the development of new products, practices, processes and technologies” of FAR Maremma within the framework of the Rural Development Plan 2014/2020 – LEADER method.

The project, “INcroci di CInta senese allevati sui pascoli della MYremma toscana: quality of meat and Benessere animal welfare” (“Cinta Senese pasture-raised crosses in the Tuscan Maremma: meat quality and animal welfare”) is abbreviated In. Ci.Ma. he Benessere, which translates to “well-being at the top”. Among its objectives is the construction of a small mobile slaughterhouse that would allow the loading, unloading and transport of animals in a state of irreversible unconsciousness or already dead, limiting or eliminating the loss of quality of the meat that comes stress-generating pre-slaughter conditions while guaranteeing more global respect for the quality of life of farmed animals.

The other two points of the project funded by the Tuscany Region, carried out in partnership with the “Enrico Avanzi” agro-environmental research center of the University of Pisa, are:

  1. a) propose the development of a crossbred, hybrid pig suitable for the production of Tuscan fresh pork on extensive farms, based on the Tuscan tradition of crossing Cinta Senese sows with Large White (LW) boars, in order to get in the first generation a cross, known as fat Where tramacchiato, which are said to be more prolific, reach slaughter age earlier, and are better suited to wild farming methods.
  2. b) develop a web application that would allow the insertion and verification in a simple and immediate way of all the information on the control and guarantee of each stage of the production chain.

In concrete terms, according to this practice, pigs are stunned directly on the farm, in a correctly sized and controlled installation, by a worker — trained in accordance with Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 — using a firing pin which produces an immediate state of irreversible unconsciousness. The animal’s body is then loaded into a mobile transport structure using a winch and drained by cutting the main arteries and veins (carotid, jugular, brachiocephalic trunk). The mobile structure includes a small room with a hot water sink to facilitate the washing of the worker and the tools used. The effluents (blood and urine) are collected within the structure in a special tank so that they can be transported and disposed of at the slaughterhouse. After the closure of the mobile structure, the worker, depending on the season, can turn on the internal air conditioning of the trailer and then reach the local slaughterhouse in less than two hours. Here, the veterinary service can carry out all the necessary checks on the animal and ensure that the health and safety rules are respected.

Thanks to the project, the Tenuta di Paganico has obtained temporary authorization from the local health authority, with which it has established a constructive relationship. If the data confirms the effectiveness of the on-farm slaughter technique, an application will be made to the Ministry of Health to authorize it as a commercial practice. This structure, easily transportable, could also be used by several farmers in the same area, strengthening the competitiveness of livestock farming in marginal areas.

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