Law on Humane Slaughter in the U.S. and Asia

June 7, 2021Zihao Yu

Introduction

The process of slaughter is important in the food supply chains, and it receives great attention from animal rights groups, consumers, policymakers, and the industry. The concept of humane slaughter was invented to reduce the distress and pains in the slaughter process. In the United States, the Humane Slaughter Act holds that livestock must be slaughtered in a humane manner to prevent needless suffering. This blog explains the humane methods of slaughter, the regulation in the U.S., and explores the legislation in Asian countries and regions.

What is "humane slaughter"?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, “humane” means “showing kindness, care, and sympathy toward others, especially those who are suffering.” In Merriam-Webster, “humane” means “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals.” In terms of animal welfare, a slaughter method is only humane if the animal dies without pain or distress. Three approaches are used to achieve humane slaughter, including instant killing, killing animals after they are effectively made insensible, the method of killing is not aversive or unpleasant (for example using argon or nitrogen).

Instead of killing, animal welfare shall be considered during the whole process in the slaughterhouse, including transportation and pre-slaughter handling. Proper methods shall be applied to reduce unnecessary suffering and distress of animals.

Main methods of humane slaughter

The main methods of slaughter in use commercially fall into three categories: electrical, percussive, and controlled atmosphere. “Electrical methods of slaughter include systems which simply stun the animal (stun-only methods) and methods which initially stun the animal and are then followed by a second phase which also kills the animal (stun-kill methods). The main percussive method of slaughter used is captive-bolt stunning. Percussive methods cause unconsciousness by administering a severe blow to the skull of the animal, with or without penetration of the skull. Controlled atmosphere methods include all gas systems and Low Atmosphere Pressure Stunning (LAPS). Controlled atmosphere methods work by limiting the oxygen available to the animals.” Read more here.

According to World Animal Protection, humane slaughter methods shall include:

  • Use of humane handling techniques;

  • Pre-slaughter stunning, which stops animals feeling pain;

  • Correct use of stunning and restraining equipment;

  • Handling pigs in groups to reduce stress on individual animals;

  • Installation of blue lamps to calm poultry; and

  • Use of non-slip floors and low-angle ramps to stop animals from falling and getting injured.

"Chickens waiting for slaughter" by KatjusaC is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Humane slaughter in the U.S.

At the federal level, the first version of the Humane Slaughter Act was passed in 1958. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (7 U.S.C.A. §§ 1901 - 1907) was passed in 1987.


The purposes of the Act are:

  1. To prevent needless suffering;

  2. for safer and better working conditions for persons engaged in the slaughtering industry;

  3. to bring about improvement of products and economies in slaughtering operations;

  4. to produce other benefits for producers, processors, and consumers which tend to expedite an orderly flow of livestock and livestock products in interstate and foreign commerce. (§ 1901. Findings and declaration of policy)


The Act prevents all methods of slaughtering or handling in connection with slaughtering unless it is humane. The two humane methods in the Act are:

  • “in the case of cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and other livestock, all animals are rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut;” or

  • “by slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers the loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and handling in connection with such slaughtering.” (§ 1902. Humane methods)

The Act is criticized as “a mild and modest beginning in the field of humane slaughter.” The Act excludes certain species which are commonly used in agriculture such as poultry, fish, rabbits, or other animals, has the exemption for “Ritual Slaughter” to protect the constitutional rights, and lacks a general enforcement mechanism. Learn more here.

According to the Table of State Humane Slaughter Laws, there are at least 21 states of America with state humane slaughter laws. “Nearly all the states provide by law that an animal must be "rendered insensible to pain" prior to being hoisted or shackled for slaughter. Most of these state laws also contain a religious/ritual slaughter exception whereby an animal may be killed by severing the carotid artery, causing loss of consciousness prior to being hoisted. About half of the states expand the definition of "livestock" to any animal used in the preparation of meat products. Penalty for violation of these statutes is relatively lenient, especially considering the prevalence of large-scale commercial slaughter operations. The majority of the states, however, make violation of their acts simple misdemeanors.”


Read more here.

"Humane Slaughter" by Bernie Goldbach is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Legislation in Asia

Japan

Farm animals, except fish, are protected by the anti-cruelty and duty of care provisions. Slaughter is to minimize pain and distress (though appropriate methods are not specified and stunning is not required). There is no legislation specifically addressing farm animals. Besides, livestock is excluded from the law's Regulations on Animal Handling Businesses. Read more here.

South Korea

South Korea adopted its first rudimentary Animal Protection Law on May 7, 1991. This initial law broadly defined the responsibility of animal caretakers and owners to properly feed, house, and care for their animals. It also prohibited animal cruelty and inhumane slaughter in very general terms and described procedures for handling abandoned animals. In 2007, the revised law defined the humane slaughtering and transportation of livestock, restricted animal experimentation, and made provisions for government-run animal protection facilities and education. Slaughtering of animals for human consumption in accordance with the Livestock Product Sanitation and Inspection Act. However, there aren’t any laws dictating the slaughter and butchery of dogs for human consumption because they are not defined as livestock. Read more here.

Mainland China

Article 13.2 provides one recommendation for humane slaughter on pigs: “Encourage designated pig slaughter plants (farms) to implement humane slaughter in accordance with relevant national standards and regulations.” (Measures for the Implementation of the Regulations on the Administration of Pig Slaughter) The "Technical Specifications for Welfare Slaughtering of Broilers" (2016, Shandong Province) is only a local standard, and its legal effect and scope are limited.


Republic of China (ROC)

The Guidelines for Humane Slaughter of Livestock and Poultry, 2008, are applicable to “livestock and poultry slaughtering operations in slaughterhouses, including the operations of unloading, mooring, driving, holding, stunning and bleeding of livestock and poultry.” This guideline is without any enforcement measures.


India

Although India is home to millions of animals above, most existing legal protections address only the treatment of cows in India. These include a Constitutional provision (Art. 48) prohibiting the slaughter of cows and cattle, special laws prohibiting and criminalizing cow slaughter in most Indian states, and judicial decisions upholding beef bans. Read more here.

The legislation in other jurisdictions will be available soon.

Conclusion

Humane slaughter is one of the most important parts of farmed animal welfare. The regulations are not really “humane” given the limited species and exemptions. The lack of enforcement makes the laws harder to be applied. On the other hand, the definition of “humane” is not always clear. For animal abolitionists, anti-cruelty and merely regulating for animal welfare is not enough, and embracing veganism is the only way to stop animal exploitation.

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