British Slaughterhouses Are Committing Thousands of Animal Welfare Breaches Every Year

A new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that animal mistreatment is taking place an average of 13 times a day in British abattoirs.

Aug 31 2016, 12:00pm

When we talk about animal welfare in the meat industry, discussion usually centres on how animals are raised: what size the coops are, whether they can roam in green pastures, and the conditions under which they're transported.

But according to a new report, the treatment of chickens, cows, and sheep inside the abattoir could be the real cause for concern.

Using data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act from the Government's Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that 9,511 animal welfare breaches have taken place in British abattoirs over the last two years.

That means mistreatment of animals is happening an average of 13 times a day.

Released today, the Bureau's findings are based on reports from vets and hygiene inspectors between June 2014 and June 2016. It stated that breaches in abattoirs were due to "regular breakdowns on production lines, equipment failures, and poor procedures," but that "individual acts of cruelty and neglect by slaughterhouse staff, hauliers, and farmers" were also to blame.

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The Bureau designated the animal welfare breaches into categories of severity, ranging from a "low-risk isolated incident" to the most serious kind, which saw animals are subjected to "avoidable pain, distress, or suffering." Nearly half (4,455) of the breaches reported fell into the most severe category.

The type of mistreatment ranged from incidents during transportation, with some animals dying of suffocation, to reports of physical abuse and malpractice in the slaughter process.

The Bureau concluded that while enforcement action was taken against all of the most severe cases of animal cruelty, it is unclear how people were punished.

In a press statement to MUNCHIES, the FSA stressed that these findings were not evidence of routine cruelty. It said: "Almost 1 billion animals are processed a year in slaughterhouses resulting in 0.000002 percent welfare four scores [the most severe category of mistreatment] being raised."

But the FSA did condemn the breaches: "The FSA has a zero tolerance approach to animal welfare breaches. [...] When breaches do occur the FSA uses a proportionate approach to enforcement actions."

Speaking to MUNCHIES, Alyx Elliot, head of campaigns at welfare charity World Animal Protection UK, said that slaughterhouse malpractice is a problem that urgently needs addressing.

She said: "The high levels of suffering exposes deep rooted flaws within British slaughterhouses. World Animal Protection would support the presence of CCTV in both slaughterhouses and transport trucks to allow effective monitoring and to ensure that animal welfare is a high priority."

The Bureau's findings come as the FSA also publishes data showing that the use of CCTV to monitor animal welfare has "plateaued." In a survey published today, it found that 49.3 percent of red meat abattoirs and 70.4 percent of white meat abattoirs "have some form of CCTV in use for animal welfare purposes." This is an increase of just 0.5 percent for red meat abattoirs on 2015 figures and 0.4 percent down for white meat abattoirs.

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The Bureau's report cites several regulatory bodies like the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA who call for more CCTV, both inside slaughterhouses and inside transport vehicles.

It remains to be seen whether the findings will have a long-term effect on slaughterhouse practices.