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front electrodeEvery year, billions of animals are reared for food around the world. In order to be considered humane, the slaughter of these animals must be carried out in a way which causes no unnecessary pain or suffering. A number of systems have been developed to facilitate the humane slaughter or killing of livestock. The main principle of all these methods is to stun the animal so that it becomes unconscious and insensible to pain; this condition should last until the animal is dead.

Electrical stunning, also known as electronarcosis, was initially developed in France and Germany in the late 1920s, for use on cattle, sheep, pigs, calves and horses. This method involves stunning the animals with electricity; death is caused either by bleeding (cutting the major blood vessels between the heart and brain), or by electrocution (by applying an electric current to stop the heart). Even in the early stages of development, experiments were carried out to determine the optimum electrical current needed to stun animals for sufficient time to enable them to be bled without recovering consciousness. In the early 1930s, high-throughput electrical stunning systems were developed in the United States of America. Electrical stunning became more widely established in Europe in the 1950s and is now used around the world.

Modern equipment controls the voltage, frequency, waveform and duration of the electric current delivered to stun the animals. There are systems available which can can also monitor the operation to record and display the electrical parameters with which the animal is stunned. Despite the increasing complexity of electrical stunning equipment, it is still the responsibility of the operator to ensure that every animal is humanely stunned and killed. Poorly maintained or incorrectly used electrical equipment can result in avoidable suffering for the animal, and can also compromise operator safety.

These guidance notes explain the theory, practice and use of electricity to stun and kill animals. They provide essential technical information to abattoir supervisors, veterinary surgeons, meat hygiene inspectors and maintenance engineers; assist management in the selection of equipment; provide operators with background information to help them carry out their job competently and safely; describe faults and conditions that might prevent equipment operating correctly; and explain how to rectify the common problems.

The practical information presented in this guide is intended to be clear and instructive. However, some of the stunning and killing procedures described cannot be very effectively or fully demonstrated except in practice. Anyone aiming to undertake these procedures should also seek practical training with an experienced operator. In many countries (e.g. EU member states) training and certification are required by law.


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