PIG SLAUGHTER SCANDAL- Why Carbon Dioxide Is the Real Welfare Problem, Not the Shortage

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Midsummer and the World Cup is in full swing, along with a rise in demand for food and drink. British media headlines are warning that supplies of beer, fizzy drinks and other summertime favourites are threatened by an industrial shortage of CO2. Maintenance closures at fertiliser factories that produce the gas as a by-product were blamed.

Enter animal welfare: fears began to spread that the lack of CO2 would disrupt the slaughtering of pigs, the gas being widely used as a slaughter method.

The Times reported how Tulip, Britain’s largest pork supplier, had stopped production for more than a week at its abattoir at Brechin in Angus, Scotland, after running out of CO2. Thousands of pigs were packed into trucks and forced to travel an extra 300 miles to slaughter during the heatwave. Compassion was quick to raise concerns about the long journeys for the pigs and possible overcrowding.


We also raised the spectre of a much bigger animal cruelty scandal – the use of the carbon dioxide gas itself as a stunning and slaughter method.

The pigs are lowered into a gas chamber containing CO2, causing the pigs to gasp for breath and hyperventilate, causing pain and panic amongst the terrified animals.

Herewith a video example of Carbon dioxide slaughtering of pigs, now widespread internationally – warning graphic content

Pig Truth from Animal Rights on Vimeo.

Half of Britain’s pigs are now killed this way.

As far back as 1996, clear scientific evidence highlighted that CO2 stunning for pigs causes severe welfare problems and a high degree of suffering. The study concluded that pigs show profound aversion to the gas which leads to “severe respiratory distress”. More recent evidence suggests that the pigs take 30-60 seconds or more to lose consciousness, a long time, especially when panicking and fighting for breath.

In 2003, the UK Government’s own Farm Animal Welfare Council concluded that CO2 pig slaughter was “not acceptable” and called for a ban within five years.

In 2004, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) condemned CO2 stunning for pigs as being “aversive” to the animals.

In 2009, the newly adopted EU Regulation on slaughter and welfare expressed disquiet, stressing the importance of exploring a phase-out of CO2 for pigs.

Calling for a ban

Yet, despite years of official condemnation, CO2 slaughter seems to have crept in as a widely accepted practice.

What I’ve discovered is that there seems to be no commercially-reliable, humane way to kill a pig. That needs to change and fast.

More encouragingly, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Humane Slaughter Association last year agreed to fund research into alternative ways of slaughtering pigs. This is welcome news.

However, the best way to impress on the industry the need for very rapid change is to ban the use of high levels of CO2, setting a clear date by when it can no longer be used. Only then will industry minds be truly focused on solving this scandalous animal welfare situation.

To this end, Compassion has called on Michael Gove, DEFRA Secretary of State, to introduce a ban on the use of CO2 stunning and slaughter of pigs to come into force within five years. We have also urged him to galvanise Government and industry research to find genuinely humane alternatives to CO2.

In addition, I have written to Britain’s major supermarkets as well as Red Tractor and other farm assurance schemes, urging them – if they haven’t already – to dispense with CO2 slaughter in their supply chains.

How can it be acceptable in the country known as a ‘nation of animal lovers’ for worries over supplies of fizzy drinks to take a front seat over animal welfare? When one in two pigs go to their deaths experiencing pain and fear due to a slaughter method wrongly seen by some as ‘humane’?

Compassion in World Farming has been campaigning for a ban on CO2 slaughtering of pigs for 25 years. With your help, we can bring this very sorry chapter in animal welfare history to a close.

Thank you as ever for your support. 

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