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June 7, 2017
 

EFSA offers welfare insights on slaughter of pregnant animals

 

 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) hopes to minimise, if not totally eliminate, the slaughter of pregnant farmed animals in Europe to improve the state of animal welfare in the EU.

 

According to EFSA experts, on average 3% of dairy cows, 1.5 % of beef cattle, 0.5% of pigs, 0.8% sheep and 0.2% of goats in the EU are slaughtered during the last third of gestation.

 

Reasons vary, from farmers not being aware that animals are pregnant to considerations linked to animal health and welfare to economic reasons.

 

EFSA's Panel on Animal Health and Welfare have assessed whether or when livestock fetuses of different animal species experience pain. The scientists agreed that they don't feel pain in the first two thirds of gestation because the relevant physical and neurological structures develop only during the last part of gestation.

 

The experts also said that there was 66-99% likelihood that the fetuses do not experience pain during the last third of gestation, mainly due to factors such as mechanisms in the brain that inhibit the ability to experience pain, low levels of oxygen in the system of the fetus and that fetuses are in a sleep state for much of the time during gestation.

 

However, there is probability (1% to 33%) that the fetuses do experience pain during the final third of gestation, according to the experts.

 

EFSA said that there is limited information on this topic and hopes that its scientific opinion, based on expert judgment, offers insights that can be used by risk managers across the EU.

 

"Ultimately, this work contributes to the improvement of animal welfare", it said.

 

Reducing number of slaughtered pregnant animals

 

The EFSA experts proposed practical measures for reducing the number of pregnant animals slaughtered, including:

 

-- Implementing measures to improve the health of animals on farm and therefore reducing unplanned slaughter for such reasons as animal sickness;

 

-- Implementing management practices such as single-sex housing and supervised breeding.

 

-- Establishing the gestation status of all animals to ensure that they are not sent for slaughter during the last third of gestation;

 

-- Ensuring information about gestation diagnosis is present in documentation accompanying animals at the time of sale to farmers;

 

-- Implementing education and communication strategies for farmers on preventive measures; and

 

-- Undertaking research to improve the accuracy of rapid on-site gestation testing, especially for the diagnosis of later stages of gestation in small ruminants and pigs.

 

The scientific opinion from EFSA follows a request from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

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