The operation known as pithing (physical destruction of the brain to ensure rapid death following captive-bolt stunning) is no longer practised in UK slaughterhouses. It was banned by law in 2001 for all cattle, sheep and goats destined for human or animal consumption due to fears the practice may contaminate carcases with brain tissue, potentially facilitating the spread of TSEs such as BSE.

fig9However, pithing remains an effective and legitimate means of ensuring the rapid death of animals not destined for human consumption, e.g. casualties, emergencies or those destroyed during disease control operations.

Pithing involves inserting a flexible wire or polypropylene rod through the hole in the head made by a penetrative captive-bolt. The rod is then thrust towards the tail through the brain to the level of the brainstem and, if it is long enough, into the spinal cord. It is then slid back and forth to cause maximum damage to the brain and upper spinal cord, a practice known as ‘fiddling’. Initially the animal will show violent muscle contraction, but then reflex muscle movement is inhibited. Disposable pithing canes, which remain in the carcase, are available.



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