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Are there animal welfare advantages to on-farm mobile slaughtering units or micro-abattoirs?

The concept of a mobile slaughtering unit arose from the need to slaughter animals on farm for personal consumption. A mobile slaughtering unit drives onto the property where the animal is killed, the carcass is then processed inside the unit and the meat cuts provided to the owner of the animal. Outside of their use on farm, mobile slaughtering units may also be employed as part of a feral animal control program.

Micro abattoirs are different to mobile slaughtering units in that they are located at a permanent site and usually consist of prefab or container sections. They operate similarly to a conventional abattoir but at a much smaller scale.

Because of their close (micro abattoirs) or immediate (mobile units) proximity to the animals that are to be killed, they often provide a welfare advantage in terms of eliminating the stress of (long-distance) transport, the stress of loading and unloading onto trucks, and the stress of mixing with unfamiliar animals, e.g. at saleyards or at the abattoir itself. RSPCA policy on transport of food animals states that we support the humane slaughter of food animals as near as possible to the point of production.

For animal welfare to be good at these facilities, the criteria for humane killing must be satisfied. RSPCA policy on humane killing states that an animal must be killed instantly or instantaneously rendered insensible to pain until death supervenes. In addition, the method of killing and the skill of the operator are essential aspects of the slaughtering process.

To achieve a high level of operator skill, operators must be trained in animal handling, in the selection of the best killing method, in the correct application of the killing method and in the proper maintenance of equipment.

All methods of humane killing must meet the same criteria:

  • death of an animal without panic, pain or distress
  • instant unconsciousness followed by rapid death without regaining consciousness
  • reliability for both single or large numbers of animals
  • simplicity and minimal maintenance
  • minimal detrimental impact on operators or observers.

In addition to their regulatory requirements, the RSPCA believes that micro abattoirs and mobile slaughtering units should at least meet the standards of animal welfare described in the meat industry’s Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments. These outline performance indicators for each of the key areas that influence animal welfare at slaughter:

  • standard operating procedures to prevent risks to animal welfare.
  • design and maintenance of facilities and equipment to ensure minimal interference or stress to livestock.
  • all staff required to handle livestock are competent.
  • livestock that are weak, ill or injured are identified and promptly treated.
  • livestock are managed to minimise stress and injuries.
  • restraint, stunning and slaughter procedures are carried out humanely and effectively.

Finally, micro abattoirs and mobile slaughtering units must be required to be audited so that the implementation and maintenance of animal welfare standards can be verified on an on-going basis.

For a micro abattoir or mobile slaughtering unit to be able to sell food products for human consumption they must have a licence to operate which means they must meet the relevant food safety regulations and any relevant standard that applies to the abattoir, including the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption. Particularly for the mobile slaughtering unit, such a licence may be difficult to obtain simply because of the mobile nature of the operation or because a licence category does not exist. However, where a mobile slaughtering unit (and indeed a micro abattoir) is able to meet food safety requirements, provide a high level of animal welfare through adherence to the industry’s animal welfare standards, and is monitored against these standards the RSPCA believes such operations should be supported and a licence category introduced so that they are able to sell food products for human consumption.

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Updated on May 1, 2019
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