Animal cruelty: is violence inherent to abattoirs?

Animal cruelty: is violence inherent to abattoirs?
By Euronews
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Shocking hidden camera videos have reignited the debate on animal cruelty. We talk to a farmer, abattoir workers and a sociologist about the killing of animals for food.

Releasing shocking hidden camera videos, a small animal rights group based in Lyon, France has reignited the debate on animal cruelty, causing French authorities to close down several abattoirs and launch a parliamentary inquiry

According to L214, this is the norm in abattoirs everywhere.

The videos have come as a shock to many, including in the farming world. Philippe Notin is a third-generation organic farmer from the Loire region. He is a minority shareholder in the slaughterhouse where his animals are killed, which he says gives him a say about what goes on there.

We asked him how he feels about sending his animals to the abattoir.

“An animal that goes to an abattoir represents more than 1,000 euros. It’s money we need to live, and we know that from the start, when it’s born, we know how it’s going to die. But our wish is for the animal to go there in the best possible conditions, with the least stress, and when I see pictures like that of animals being abused, it makes me feel awful,” he told Euronews.

Millions of farmed animals around the world are killed every day for human consumption, and according to L214, there is no humane way of slaughtering animals.

To find out more about the killing process, and about the checks and balances that exist in terms of animal welfare in abattoirs, we decided to talk to those directly involved. We managed to convince the manager of the slaughterhouse at Corbas near Lyon to show us what goes on inside.

Six thousand tonnes of meat leave this abattoir every year – that’s 57,700 animals. It’s considered a small to medium-sized slaughterhouse by French and European standards. Slaughtering starts early in the morning, around 5.00 or 6.00 am. The animals arrive the day before and we are told they spend a maximum of 12 hours in the cowshed before being killed, during that time they are given water but are not fed.

“On cattle and veal, we use a device called a ‘matador’: a pressurised capsule triggers a stilet which stuns the animal and perforates the skull,” explained Jean-Luc Duperret, manager at the Cibevial slaughterhouse.

Asked whether it works every time, he told us: “It doesn’t necessarily work every time, it depends on the animal, whether it moves, and on the user.”

“And if it doesn’t work, what is the rule?,” we enquired. “Do it again,” he replied.

The stunning of the animals is central to the controversy, as the failure rate is impossible to evaluate.

And in the case of so-called ritual slaughter – for halal and kosher meat – as seen on the L214 hidden camera footage, animals are not stunned. Animal rights groups argue this causes extra suffering.

Ritual slaughter is increasingly common in France. In Corbas, it represents 60 percent of all killings. But as there is no legal obligation to specify the mode of slaughter on the meat packaging, exact figures are not known

“For ritual slaughter – be it kosher or halal – we basically use the same method, even though there are some differences,” explained Jean-Luc Duperret. “The animal is contained in a trap, a number of shutters block its movements, then it is turned around, and a butcher bleeds the animal by cutting its throat. The animal stays in the trap for at least 45 seconds, until it loses consciousness. The body then falls out of the trap and after a while it is hoisted where it finishes bleeding.”

The slaughtering of farmed animals in the EU is regulated by legislation, which specifies that “any person involved in the killing of animals should take the necessary measures to avoid pain and minimise the distress and suffering of animals during the slaughtering or killing process (…).”

Depending on its size, the law requires each abattoir to have, on its premises, at least one or several veterinarians plus an Animal Welfare Officer responsible for checking both the quality of the meat and the welfare of the animals before, during and after slaughtering.

During our visit to the slaughterhouse in Corbas, we were accompanied by Vincent Pfister, a veterinarian in charge of Animal Protection and Health at the Departmental Directorate of Population Protection (DDPP), a decentralised state service tasked with ensuring people’s welfare. It makes sure the slaughterhouse complies with health and safety regulations and monitors its adherence to animal welfare standards.

“A slaughterhouse is by no means a barbaric place,” he told us. “There are men who work here, professionals who love their jobs, whether they work for the abattoir or for the control services. The (hidden camera) pictures are shocking, they are intolerable and they will lead to prosecution, there’s no doubt about that, but they don’t reflect at all what goes on inside an abattoir on a daily basis.”

While the manager of the abattoir agreed to let our camera in, he asked us not to film the actual bleeding process. But we talked to workers whose job it is to slash the animals’ throats – a gesture they sometimes repeat several hundred times a day – and we asked them what they think of the videos released by L214,

“It’s rubbish,” said Youcef, who has been working there for 20 years. “It’s true that it can happen. I always say, it can happen to anyone, put them inside a cowshed, and if they are angry, they will take it out on the animal, it happens, but not often, once every 10 years.”

The correlation between violence and animal slaughter has long preoccupied social scientists. For sociologist Catherine Rémy of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), violence is inherent to slaughterhouses, but the industrialisation process makes it worse.

“Industrialised killing means we have forgotten all about the living. We thought we could treat animals like any other object on a production chain. There are people whose job it is to bleed animals 100, 200, 300 times a day, that’s huge, it’s very, very powerful, and increases the question of violence tenfold,” she said.

Back to our farmer, Philippe. He, too, believes that the problem lies in the scale. According to him, industrial farming and industrial slaughtering not only affect the welfare of the animals but also of the humans who eat them, as ill-treatment affects the quality of the meat.

“When it comes to the quality of the meat, an animal that’s not stressed doesn’t develop any toxins in its meat. An animal that’s been ill-treated, for example animals that have been beaten, they have bruises. We process our own beef, and, if there’s a bruise, we automatically throw it away, it’s a loss for us,” he told us.

But organic food, and meat in particular, is more expensive than industrially-produced food. Is the consumer willing and able to pay more?

“The question is: is the consumer prepared to deal with a food scandal every week?,” asked Philippe. “Half a year doesn’t go by without there being a food safety scandal in the agri-food industry… industry! ‘Industry’ for something you eat! We should never have used the word ‘industry’ for something that’s alive, the word ‘industry’ is for scrap metal, for steel, for cars!”

Live updates from our Insiders team

For French speakers, please see bonus material on this topic on Euronews’ French language website

See Sweden and Denmark’s answer to “humane slaughtering”:

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