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HSA continues work to improve the welfare of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods at slaughter

13 March 2018

Billions of farmed finfish are slaughtered for human consumption, far greater than any other type of mammal or bird, and many of these fish are not humanely stunned before slaughter.  The most common methods of slaughter expose them to substantial suffering over a prolonged period of time - many species of farmed fish are typically killed by being taken out of water and left to asphyxiate in air.  Or fish might be frozen or gutted whilst conscious.

In addition, many crustaceans (eg crabs and lobsters) and cephalopods (eg octopus, cuttlefish and squid) are slaughtered for food without stunning and there is a lack of practical and scientifically validated humane stunning methods for these species.  The HSA wishes to support the development of humane stunning methods which will preclude the possibility of these animals experiencing pain or distress at the time of slaughter and, to this end, has just announced a considerable sum for research funding. Click here to go to the funding webpage.

What can consumers do?

Just like for cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry, there are assurance schemes for fish, certifying that the producer complied with more humane methods of farming and slaughter. 

For example, when purchasing fish products, consumers can look for the UK RSPCA Assured label, which certifies farmed Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout and requires that both species must “be humanely killed” using specified, permitted stunning methods.  More humane slaughter of fish is associated with improvements in meat quality, for example firmer, translucent fillets with brighter colour and less gaping of the flesh. 

Other assurance schemes for farmed fish are rapidly growing in scope and also include animal welfare in their list of requirements alongside environmentally sustainable and socially responsible goals.

HSA’s Chief Executive & Scientific Director Dr Robert Hubrecht said: “Fish behave in a manner that suggests high levels of awareness and intelligence and research indicates that fish may experience pain.  It is important that consumers are made aware of this and that it is possible to purchase products made from fish which are assured/certified to have been killed more humanely.

See also:

RSPCA Assured

RSPCA Assured (previously Freedom Food) is the RSPCA’s ethical food label dedicated to farm animal welfare. RSPCA Assured has two finfish aquaculture standards, covering Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout.  These are detailed in comprehensive assurance standards, which stipulate a high level of fish welfare.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council is an independent, international non-profit organisation that manages the world’s leading certification and labelling programme for responsible aquaculture.

GLOBALGAP aquaculture standard

GLOBALGAP is a worldwide, business-to-business standard for safe and sustainable food production. Their aquaculture standard covers legal compliance, food safety,worker welfare, environmental care, ecological care and animal welfare. While the inspection procedure does not include direct assessment of fish welfare (i.e. examination of fish), GLOBALGAP certification provides a reasonable level of assurance of finfish welfare.

Best Aquaculture Practices

A division of the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) is an international certification programme based on achievable, science based and continuously improved performance standards for the entire aquaculture supply chain - farms, hatcheries, processing plants and feed mills. BAP certification is based on independent audits, which evaluate compliance with the BAP standards developed by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA). The animal welfare component is most comprehensively covered in the salmon standard, but it is less well covered in the general Finfish and Crustacean Farms standard, which is applicable to all other species.

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