CO2 shortage a chance to move away from 'cruel, archaic' use of gas to slaughter farm animals, say campaigners

Jane Dalton
CO2 causes burning pain in pigs when used for stunning, welfare groups claim: Viktor Drachev/TASS

Britain’s carbon-dioxide crisis is an opportunity to introduce more humane slaughter methods, according to experts in animal farming.

The idea that using CO2 to kill pigs and poultry is kinder is a myth, according to the head of campaign group Compassion in World Farming (CWIF), which plans to lobby the government to ban the gas in slaughterhouses.

Philip Lymbery said carbon dioxide exposure was a “cruel, archaic” method of slaughter that was “far from instantaneous”.

“It causes severe suffering and distress – this is shown clearly by the scientific evidence,” he told The Independent.

The nationwide CO2 shortage could compromise animal welfare in abattoirs, it has been reported.

Supplies of carbon dioxide used in industry and food production have plummeted after several gas producers in northern Europe went offline for maintenance, according to Gasworld. Maintenance shutdowns of plants in the UK have exacerbated the problem.

Meat processors, which use the gas to stun pigs and poultry, have warned that supplies of chicken and pork meat could run low.

According to vegan charity Viva! 25 per cent of pigs – more than 2m a year - in Britain are stunned with CO2.

The charity Animal Aid agrees with CWIF that CO₂ is “far from ‘humane’” and causes numerous issues including “breathlessness as well as immense burning pain”.

​CWIF plans to write to environment secretary Michael Gove to press for an end to the use of CO2, arguing that the shortage of the gas is an opportunity to switch to less cruel slaughterhouse practices.

Those could include electric stunning “when properly carried out” and the use of gas mixtures, which it believes are less “aversive” to farm animals.

A 2003 report by the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that carbon dioxide slaughter be phased out.

The following year, the European Food Safety Authority confirmed the effectiveness of the method but noted that it resulted in respiratory distress in pigs.

“Lots of media are saying CO2 is a humane method of slaughter but nothing could be further from the truth,” said Mr Lymbery. “Its use is a major animal-welfare issue.

“The CO2 crisis has highlighted the need for urgent action by government to tackle it.”

He said as well as electric stunning and gas mixtures, another option would be low-atmospheric-pressure stunning, which is available for chickens, but not yet used in the EU, and more work is needed on whether it would be suitable for pigs.

“There is very little genuine emphasis on animal welfare in the slaughter chain – no one really wants to invest more money in it which is why the way we slaughter animals is still in the dark ages,” he added.

Last year the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, together with the Humane Slaughter Association, launched £400,000 of research funding for a project into less cruel commercial slaughter methods.

Pig industry leaders insist CO2 is the most humane slaughter method and have called for the industry to be given priority for the limited sources.