Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Experts say 3pc of dairy cows are slaughtered while heavily pregnant

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

On average 3pc of dairy cows, 1.5pc of beef cattle, 0.5pc of pigs, 0.8pc sheep and 0.2pc of goats in the EU are slaughtered during the last third of gestation, according to an expert judgement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare has examined issues surrounding the slaughter of pregnant farmed animals in the European Union

Of note in Ireland, the research found about 10pc of sheep were pregnant when slaughtered (8.5pc early stage of gestation, 1.4pc mid gestation and 0.1pc late gestation).

According to EFSA expert judgement, reasons for pregnant animals being slaughtered may vary – from farmers not being aware that animals are pregnant, to considerations linked to animal health and welfare or economic reasons.

EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare also assessed whether and when livestock fetuses of different animal species experience pain.

The scientists agreed that the animals don’t in the first two thirds of gestation because the relevant physical and neurological structures develop only during the last part of gestation.

The experts estimated the probability that fetuses experience pain during the final third of gestation. They concluded that the most probable scenario is that they don’t due to the presence of a series of inhibitory mechanisms in the body of the fetus.

EFSA proposals to reduce the number of pregnant animals slaughtered:

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  • Implement measures to improve the health of animals on farm and therefore reduce unplanned slaughter for such reasons as animal sickness.
  • Implement management practices such as single sex housing and supervised breeding
  • Establish the gestation status of all animals to ensure that they are not sent for slaughter during the last third of gestation.
  • Ensure information about gestation diagnosis is present in documentation accompanying animals at the time of sale to farmers.
  • Implement education and communication strategies for farmers on preventive measures.
  • Undertake research to improve the accuracy of rapid on-site gestation testing, especially for the diagnosis of later stages of gestation in small ruminants and pigs.

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