My second time at a slaughter house here in Slovakia, I stood and watched pigs go from animals to meat for human consumption.
Last time I was here 2 weeks ago it was with cattle; generally beef here in Slovakia is not a major food item so there were only 5 cattle slaughtered that day. However today the pigs kept coming with me losing track of how many were slaughtered as I watched.
The slaughter house here is smaller than those that I have visited in the UK so a lot of the process here is manual. However slaughter is regulated under EU legislation and the animal welfare of an animal during slaughter is tightly controlled. Something I like here is that the slaughter process here is covered by CCTV, this is something that is not everywhere and so I am impressed.
As animals are slaughtered in front of us we are discussing the effectiveness of electrical stunning, too little and the animal could suffer, yet too much and the meat quality is affected. With pigs the alternative to electrical stunning is carbon dioxide however for such a small establishment here it is not feasible – even in some slaughter houses I visited in the UK it did not exist.
The pig in front of me is stunned unconscious, yet as the body is bled of it’s blood there are death spasms. These can occur for a long time after an animal is dead, even after the removal of the head there can still be spasms.
Vets have the responsibility of ensuring that any meat entering the food chain is safe for humans to eat, however there is also the responsibility of ensuring the minimum of suffering to animals. I eat meat, I like the taste, and I believe that it is essential to a healthy diet. Yet I know where it comes from, I know that it comes from animals, and I accept as a vet student that will qualify as a vet I have a role to play.
To improve and push for high standards of animal welfare – whilst I realise that vets have a role, it is the normal person that can drive change. Not only in your own health by eating a higher quality of meat yet also through the animals health by ensuring better conditions through paying just a little bit more…
Here is a chart showing you just what the labels in the supermarket really mean (you can click it for a bigger version!)