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Risk assessment of sheep welfare at small-scale slaughter in Nordic countries, comparing with large-scale slaughter

Hultgren, Jan, Algers, Bo, Atkinson, Sophie, Ellingsen, Kristian, Eriksson, Sofia, Hreinsson, Kjartan, Nordensten, Lotta, Valtari, Heidi, Mejdell, Cecilie Marie
Acta veterinaria scandinavica 2015 v.58 no.1 pp. 34
adult education, animal welfare, expert opinion, experts, fasting, food safety, guidelines, industry, lairage, meat, physiology, risk, risk estimate, risk managers, sheep, slaughter, slaughterhouses, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Scandinavia, Sweden
BACKGROUND: During the pre-slaughter period, animals experience novel environment and procedures which may cause reduced welfare and suffering. Over the last decades, the slaughter industry has restructured into fewer and larger abattoirs, implying potential risks of transport stress, injuries, and impaired animal welfare. Since recently, however, there is growing interest in small-scale slaughter to supply locally or regionally produced meat. Risk managers at all levels thus need to assess animal welfare risks also at small-scale operations. This study aimed to assess risks of poor animal welfare at small-scale lamb slaughter (≤5000 sheep/year and ≤70 sheep/day) in Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, and to compare these risks to large-scale industrial slaughter. Assessment was done applying an individual expert opinion approach during a 2-day workshop. Nine experts in lamb slaughter procedures, behaviour, physiology, health, scoring schemes and/or risk assessment provided estimates of exposure, likelihood of negative consequences following exposure, and intensity and duration of negative consequences for 71 hazards. The methods applied mainly adhered to the risk assessment guidelines of the European Food Safety Authority. The list of hazards was modified from an earlier study and distributed to the experts before the assessment. No other literature was reviewed specifically for the purpose of the assessment. RESULTS: The highest risks to animal welfare identified in both small- and large-scale slaughter were related to inadequate conditions during overnight lairage at the slaughter plant. For most hazards, risk estimates were lower in small-scale slaughter. The reverse was true for splitting of groups and separation of one sheep from the group. CONCLUSIONS: Small-scale slaughter has a potential for improved sheep welfare in comparison with large-scale industrial slaughter. Keeping the animals overnight at the slaughterhouse and prolonged fasting before slaughter should be avoided. Solutions include continuing education and training of stockpersons and, especially in large-scale slaughter, application of existing techniques for efficient transport logistics that minimise stress.