Alison Small 293x272

Dr Alison Small

Alison Small graduated as a veterinarian from the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1993 and spent 12 years working in mixed, mainly livestock practice.  During this time she worked as an On-Plant Vet in a number of abattoirs, under contract to the UK Meat Hygiene Service, and holds the UK Animal Welfare Officer certificate.  She was awarded a PhD from the University of Bristol, UK, in May 2007.

Since January 2006, she has been working for CSIRO, first at Food Science Australia, QLD as a Research Scientist and Meat Industry Adviser, and, since July 2010, at the CSIRO McMaster Laboratory in Armidale, NSW.  Current research areas include lamb survival, pain mitigation for livestock; animal behaviour and humane slaughter.

Topic: Humane slaughter: past, present and future

Human beings have been on this earth for over 200,000 years.  Our use of animals as food began with hunting, using traps, clubs and spears.  The discovery of cooking improved the digestibility of the foods we gathered and caught, promoting development of our mental capacity, and enlarging the relative size of our small intestine (suited to digestion of readily accessible protein) over the large intestine and caecum (required for digestion of raw herbage).  We subsisted in this way for over 150,000 years, until the climate stabilised, allowing farming to emerge (around 10,000 years ago), and our relationship with animals to become closer.  The practicalities of slaughtering an animal for food will have been important – inducing a rapid death would reduce the effort required by the slaughter person, and it was increasingly evident that improperly slaughtered carcases would spoil quickly, and may present a risk to human health.  Indeed, the basic tenets of Judaism (the origins of which are found in early Bronze Age rituals) with regards to meat as food are based on the protection of public health.  The identification of animals as sentient beings is also evident in Jewish law, and in Islamic law; and followers of these religions are reminded that “If you shall slaughter an animal, to do so in the best of manners”.  At the time, the “best of manners” was a single rapid cut of the neck, severing all the major blood vessels such that the animal died quickly as a result of blood loss: a technique that we recognise today as traditional Jewish (Kosher) or Islamic (Halal) slaughter.

In modern times, the Western world uses pre-slaughter stunning to render the animal unconscious at the time of slaughter (neck cutting).  The earliest of these stunning methods was a blow to the head, using a hammer or poleaxe (~100 BCE onwards), or captive bolt pistol (1920s).  Electrical stunning was developed in the early 20th Century; and gas killing followed thereafter.  So why are these techniques not used by all communities around the world?  The answer to this question lies in two main principles of religious slaughter: one, that the animal should be whole and undamaged at the point of slaughter; and two, that the slaughter should be done in the best of manners.  None of the existing stunning methods fully meet both those criteria, for a number of reasons.

This presentation will explore some of the concerns and controversies relating to these existing stunning methods, and introduce recent developments in the field.