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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

Public Service Europe article: Abattoir abuse shows need for CCTV monitoring


Footage showing “systematic brutality” in British abattoirs shows the current system is not protecting animals – and more stringent monitoring is needed, argues Green MEP, Jean Lambert.

Pigs callously burnt with cigarettes. Cows and sheep routinely kicked and punched. Bleeding and seriously injured animals forced to drag themselves to slaughter. Such images are difficult enough to imagine, let alone witness. Yet these are very real scenes of grotesque cruelty and viciousness caught on covert camera by leading animal rights organisation, Animal Aid.

Since January 2009, hidden surveillance in nine randomly chosen abattoirs across Britain has uncovered systematic brutality in the slaughterhouse industry. The scenes described above were taken from just one abattoir. Footage taken from the other eight premises, including two so-called ‘high welfare’ plants accredited by the Soil Association, tell a similar, devastating story and reveal serious breaches of animal welfare laws.

For almost 20 years, European Union member states have been governed by legislation which stipulates that animals must be killed in a way that precludes unnecessary suffering, and spared from all avoidable pain both inside and outside the slaughterhouse. Yet, the Animal Aid recordings prove beyond any doubt that a number of British abattoirs are falling far short of the legally required standards of animal welfare – and it would be wrong to assume that this is just a British problem. A similar investigation into French abattoirs in 2009 revealed serious deficiencies in slaughter practice, resulting in prolonged suffering, and the European Commission’s food and veterinary office has documented numerous incidents of horrific abuse across a number of EU countries.

It is fair to say that the current system is failing to protect Europe’s animals. For example, under British law, Food Standards Agency vets are required in all slaughterhouses whenever animals are being stunned and killed – so why were these abhorrent incidents of animal abuse not detected and stopped? Tougher, more stringent monitoring is clearly needed to correct the apparently commonplace illegality and cruelty in EU slaughterhouses. Animal welfare is of the highest importance, and is it the responsibility of the industry and national governments to ensure that effective monitoring takes place and prosecutions are brought.

The mandatory installation of CCTV cameras in British slaughterhouses, as advocated by Animal Aid, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Compassion in World Farming, would be an effective and important tool to monitor abattoir practice as well as provide evidence of incidents of abuse. Not only would the introduction of cameras allow for the consistent monitoring of slaughterhouse employees, but it would also mean that any plant could be assessed at any time. The footage should also be made available to independent agencies, in the hope that this would encourage workers to adhere to welfare laws and reduce wanton cruelty.

The availability of CCTV footage could also be a crucial tool in the training of slaughterhouse employees, as well as vets and animal welfare representatives. Images of flagrant abuse could be used to reinforce the ethical implications of bad practice; indeed scenes uncovered by Animal Aid are already being used by Bristol University to train staff and vets. The retraining of existing industry staff could also be used to tackle incidents of rough handling and inefficient or inaccurate stunning.

The commission has indicated that the current EU regulation on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter does not preclude member states from requiring abattoirs to install cameras – meaning that national governments can take whatever steps they deem necessary to ensure slaughterhouses comply with the law. Pressure must now be placed upon national governments to bring forward the necessary legislation to make CCTV cameras a mandatory requirement without delay. The United Kingdom proclaims it follows high standards of animal welfare in its farming practices: we need to be sure this continues once animals have left the farm.

This article was published on Public Service Europe on the 2nd of February 2012: