In Australia, the killing of animals for food, fibre and other animal products (referred to as ‘slaughter’) is underpinned by the Australian standard for the hygienic production and transport of meat and meat products for human consumption. The main objective of the standard is to ensure food safety, however, it also includes an animal welfare component. The key outcome of the animal welfare-related standards is:
“The minimisation of the risk of injury, pain and suffering and the least practical disturbance to the animals.”
Upon arrival at the abattoir (either the day before or on the day of slaughter), farm animals (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) are provided with water, shade, shelter and feed as appropriate. Sick or injured animals are segregated and given appropriate treatment or humanely euthanased.
Within 24 hours before slaughter, animals are checked by a meat safety inspector to ensure they are healthy and their meat therefore likely to be suitable for human consumption.
Just prior to slaughter, animals are walked up a raceway into the abattoir where they enter the stunning box. This box separates the animal off from the rest of the animals in the raceway. Within seconds of entering this box, an operator stuns the animal. With sheep or pigs, this may be an electrical stun. With cattle, this may be a captive bolt. Both devices are aimed at the brain. Pigs may also be stunned using carbon dioxide. This stunning process has as its primary purpose to render the animal unconscious and insensible to pain before being bled out.
As soon as the animal is stunned, it is shackled by a hind leg and then the large blood vessels are severed to induce bleeding (a process known as ‘sticking’). Because the animal has been stunned, it is unconscious and does not feel or experience the shackling or sticking process. The animal should not regain consciousness or sensibility before dying due to loss of blood. For poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese, they may arrive the night before or on the day of slaughter and are stunned using either electrical stunning or carbon dioxide gas. Once unconscious, the neck is severed to allow bleeding out to cause death.
After slaughter, the meat safety inspector examines the carcass to determine whether it is suitable for human consumption or whether the carcass is best used for pet food, pharmaceutical material or should be condemned.
Within hours of the animal being slaughtered, the carcass will have been placed in a refrigerator for chilling or freezing. The process of slaughtering and further processing is designed to either destroy pathogens or prevent pathogenic growth and produce meat that is safe for human consumption.