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Department of Agriculture in the dock over pig slaughter

MAEVE SHEEHAN A GOVERNMENT animal welfare committee has asked the Department of Agriculture to explain how a farmer cruelly slaughtered more than 4,000 pigs while under official supervision.

The inhumane slaughter was caught on video, showing the farmer killing pigs with a captive bolt gun, contrary to EU regulations, which only permit its use for stunning an animal. In other breaches, the animals were not restrained before being shot and were not killed in isolation.

The video, revealed in the Sunday Independent last week, was viewed by the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council last Thursday. Members of the government appointed council were said to be shocked by the images of clearly-distressed animals writhing violently in their dying moments after being shot with the bolt gun.

The committee has asked Department to report back to its next meeting, in August.

The Department has distanced itself from the poor slaughter practices on the video, arguing that the farmer sought to kill the animals himself and that veterinary inspectors who assessed the process saw nothing amiss.

The Department's role in the slaughter has been queried by animal welfare campaigners, who claim the evidence clearly shows that the farmer was not competent to kill the animals and that officials should have stepped in to halt the cruel slaughter.

Mary Ann Bartlett, of Compassion in World Farming, called for an independent inquiry "into how that slaughter was allowed to take place on farm, in the knowledge of the Department of Agriculture".

Ms Bartlett, who also sits on the animal welfare council, said she was prohibited from discussing what transpired at Thursday's meeting.

"The crux of the matter to us is how was that allowed to happen when the Department knew about it - and with a captive bolt pistol," she said.

"All slaughter should be done in a suitable location under very, very strict veterinary supervision. In this case, someone who is not a trained slaughterer killed huge numbers of animals.

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"This is about welfare of animals. We want to know how it happened and we want complete reassurance from the Department that it will not happen again."

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports also plans to raise the role of the Department of Agriculture in the slaughter with the European Commission.

Tom Galvin, from Dungarvan in Waterford, slaughtered his herd in 2002, almost three months after they were impounded by the Department. Officials found a banned substance on his farm which they say he confessed to feeding to his pigs. Disease broke out and Mr Galvin claimed he had no option but to slaughter the pigs on welfare grounds.

Mr Galvin is currently being prosecuted under the Animal Remedies Act, and is in turn suing the Department. In a statement last week, the Department of Agriculture said the farmer sought to slaughter the animals himself on welfare grounds.

Two veterinary inspectors regarded him as competent enough to use a captive bolt gun to put down the pigs. The inspectors visited the farms on numerous occasions to assess the slaughter but the farmer never raised concerns.

"They witnessed the herd owner using the captive bolt method to slaughter pigs on such occasions and furthermore witnessed him pithing a number of pigs where this was required to ensure death," the statement read.

Responding to a Dail question from Fine Gael's Agriculture spokesman Denis Naughton, Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan said: "The herd owner had decided to slaughter his animals on farm and the Department considered at the time it could not legally have forced him to have the operation conducted in a slaughter plant."

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