Animal Protection during the Slaughter Process

Our responsibility to the animals.

Start Responsibility Sustainability Issues Animal Protection during the Slaughter Process

We all want the animals whose meat we eat to be treated reasonably.
For us at Tönnies, this means: 100% focus on animal protection for the animals entrusted to us for slaughter.

Animal protection & slaughter

As a market leader, we are responsible for implementing the care of the animals in the best manner possible. During unloading, in the waiting stalls, and in the stunning and slaughter areas, the focus is on the welfare of the animals.

Jörg Altemeier

Director of Animal Protection Unit

Important key figures

Our actions

What animal protection measures are in place at our sites?

  • The pigs come 80% from a radius of 120 km from the slaughterhouse.
  • The transport time for all animals within Germany is a maximum of eight hours including loading and unloading. Through digital modules, we control compliance with these times.
  • Animal Welfare Officers check all of our sites.
  • All employees who deal with living animals have an official certificate of competence.
  • Video systems monitor the central slaughter processes and are continually expanded.
  • All pig abattoir sites work with modern COgroup stunning systems for stress-free delivery and deep anaesthesia.
  • All cattle abattoirs have modern stunning systems to prevent stunning failures.
  • We are continuously investing in new, modern animal protection measures.
  • We have its own staff department animal welfare and animal health, which reports directly to the Management Board of the Tönnies Group.
  • We undertake our suppliers and partners to comply with the animal welfare standards made by us.
  • We train our suppliers in our animal welfare standards and make them special.

The path to pig slaughter in our abattoir in Rheda-Wiedenbrück

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Animal welfare actions before the slaughter of pigs

For example, we have implemented the following measures and instruments for the pigs that arrive at Rheda-Wiedenbrück:

Water sprinkling

Fresh water drinking troughs

Humane ascending floor

Underfloor heating

Calming music

Acoustic ceilings

Coloured LED light

Video recording

Acoustic signals for animal driving

Fresh air supply

We handle the animals in a gentle way that is as stress-free as possible at all stations, from unloading to bleeding. In order to ensure this in the future, we regularly rethink our existing measures and adapt them to new developments.

During unloading and in the waiting stalls, employees are instructed to treat the pigs with respect and in a calm manner. Electric prods are forbidden, even if they are still permitted by law.
After unloading, the animals can usually rest here for 120 minutes. Troughs with fresh water are installed at the sides of the bays. In the case of longer waiting times, feed is also available in the bays.
The pigs remain in their small, familiar groups for the entire time until they reach the stunning facility. This is much more calming and thus less stressful than if the animals are isolated on this route.

The race system to the stunning facility is equipped with green light. This light frequency has a soothing effect on the animals. Relaxation music is also played in the waiting area and the consistent sound frequency of this music has a calming effect on the animals.

At all Tönnies sites, the pigs are stunned using CO2 deep anaesthesia. We are convinced that this method is currently the best and most animal-friendly approved stunning method.
A further benefit of this method of stunning is very deep loss of consciousness caused by the CO2. The pigs are in a kind of anesthesia and get nothing more from the further course after stunning.
This video shows in detail how the pig stunning process works.

After deep stunning, the animals are bled. Here, the main arteries of the blood vessels near the heart are opened with a hollow knife so that the blood can drain out quickly.
By setting up a multi-level control at Tönnies, it is ensured that the animals are safely anesthetized and bled:

  1. Control level: After leaving the stunning system, the competent, regularly trained staff checks the state of stunning of each individual animal.
  2. Control level: technical, automatic weight control of each animal carcass before and after the bleeding in order to determine the complete blood withdrawal.
  3. Control level: In the course of the bleeding, each individual animal is examined by a competent employee. The primary check is whether the bleeding stab has led to what is known as “surge bleeding” and whether the animal is free of any signs of perception.
  4. Corneal reflex test: After bleeding, an additional individual animal control of the stunning and bleeding success is carried out by testing the corneal reflex. Specially trained employees carry out this pupil and eyelid reflex test.

For all the steps of slaughter, we have described clear and strict specifications, which are based at least at the legal requirements and our own concepts. In order for these requirements to be implemented, employees who deal with the living animals are always trained for their work intensively. Every employee who dealt with live animals was trained internally and externally and has proven his expertise in an officially verified test. Through continuous training and further education about our multilingual e-learning platform “Tönnies Academy” and a permanent flow of information, our employees are regularly trained. This ensures that the animal welfare and animal welfare criteria are taken into account in the work.

In daily self-controls, the work of the employees and the technical facilities are monitored in our companies. Internal audits complete the work. Here we check if the control systems work. Through videocontrolles, we reserve the overview in all areas where live animals are handled. Our measures go beyond the legal standard. So we are able to recognize even in retrospect how the processes work. In addition, during slaughter, official veterinarians are presented to monitor our work.

The path to cattle slaughter in our abattoir in Kempten

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Animal welfare actions before the slaughter of cattle

As an example, we have implemented the following measures and tools for the cattle that arrive at our Kempten facility:

  • Trained employees to drive the animals down the ramps after transportation
  • Two-hour waiting stall period
  • Entractions over a rising and round built flueway to the stunning plant
  • Bolt shot stunning with permanent video monitoring
  • Cornealreflex check of all animals

We handle the animals in a gentle way that is as stress-free as possible at all stations, from unloading to bleeding.

Being large animals, cattle naturally behave differently from pigs. Our cattle sites, for example in Kempten, are designed for the behaviours of cattle.
Our cattle abattoirs in Kempten, Wilhelmshaven, Legden, Beckum and Badbergen are basically constructed on the same principles. Although there are some differences between the sites, the handling of the animals at all sites should be as stress-free as possible.

After transportation, the cattle are unloaded along a ramp. The employees are trained for this process so that they drive the animals using acoustic signals wherever possible. The animals then remain in the waiting stall for about two hours. This time is important so that the cattle can get used to their new surroundings.

The trained employees now drive the cattle to the stunning facility. For example, at the site in Kempten the race system is constructed based on recommendations by the scientist Dr Temple Gradin. The race system is curved so that the animals do not have to walk around 90-degree angles. These measures mean that the animals usually move independently as they do not perceive any visual barriers. However, in exceptional cases, there are cattle who firmly defend their space and do not walk through the race system independently. Therefore, in exceptional cases, the use of electronic prods is permitted. This is however monitored and recorded so that no misuse is possible.

The cattle are stunned by a bolt shot. The head of the animal is gently fixed into a stunning box so that the trained employee can expertly fire the bolt shot into the brain of the animal. This process is documented and monitored by video so that possible errors can be recognised and resolved.

After skilled stunning, the animal is bled, whereby death occurs. The cornealreflex test ensures that each individual animal is unconscious and the slaughter process can now be completed.

The entire process of beef slaughter is checked by internal and external audits and the official staff. We are increasingly using video controls to keep track of all areas in which live animals are handled.

Continuous improvement

In spite of all preventative measures and checks, errors can occur at Tönnies sites. Our goal is to identify these as quickly as possible and learn extensively from them so that these errors can be prevented across the board as much as possible. In 2017 we and the authorities were not always satisfied with the waiting times in the transporter before unloading. With roads and motorways becoming increasingly busy, our suppliers were also concerned that it was not always possible to meet the exact planned delivery dates. In this realm we made improvements with new planning and logistics concepts. We are still working on further solutions with our partners.

Our next goals

By logistics control of livestock transports, we have already reduced the waiting times before unloading the animals. Through an even better coordination between sluggage and animal purchasing, waiting time tips in busy times will be further reduced.

For our proven multilingual on-site and e-learning training courses of our employees, we are strengthening more pictorial and cinematic representations that can be carried out at workplaces over digital terminals.


We are developing a system in order to be able to guarantee our animal welfare standards also with our suppliers. That is why we work closely with our farmers in order to ensure the common goal of animal welfare-compliant husbandry.

Noise and loud noises can be uncomfortable for the animals. As part of a new project, we will further reduce noise pollution in the stable and stunning areas.

As part of temperature management in the hot season, we have begun to equip the waiting areas for the animal trucks with fans with water distraction – due to our positive experiences, we will equip additional locations. For the expansion of video surveillance at our slaughter companies, we introduce intelligent software for automated verification. That must happen in accordance with the privacy law and therefore wants to be well planned.

About the Tönnies Research we continue to post the research for narcotic alternatives for pigs. However, several alternatives studied to this day, however, is not improving the current process. We are working to make CO2 anesthesia even more practical and go beyond the legally required measure. As part of a community project, together with institutions from science and technology, a new variant for anesthesia of cattle is developed. Objectives are both the support of employees when setting the ideal thrust position, as well as the documentation of the stunning process.

Research into animal welfare

What does the research department do at Tönnies?

Act responsibly: transportation, waiting areas, delivery for slaughter, deep stunning, bleeding and checks. We do not rest with the currently available technology but look for alternative stunning methods in order to perform the stunning process in a gentler way. Whether it take the form of gas, foam or other alternatives, at Tönnies Research scientists are working on the concept of stunning.

The four groups of the Advisory Board

It is the task of Tönnies Research to lay the foundation for further scientific findings through the development of basic research in the fields of nutrition, animal husbandry and transportation. An Advisory Board with twelve members, including scientists, animal rights activists and representatives of associations and institutions, discusses research projects and makes decisions.

More information:

Opinion & Dialogue

Animal protection questions to Jörg Altemeier, Director of the Animal Protection Unit at Tönnies

With animal welfare we describe the quality of life of our livestock at all stages of their life. The basic goals are to promote the health of the animals and support their natural behaviour. The animal welfare measures exceed the minimum requirements specified in Animal Protection Legislation for the husbandry, transportation and slaughter of livestock. Any Tönnies employee who works with living animals is responsible for the protection of the animals in their department. To guarantee this, we carry out a series of cross-site measures that are grouped together under Animal Protection Management.

In Animal Protection Management we concentrate on our core responsibility: care for the animals from the end of transport to slaughter. Examples of this are the areas of employee training, stock density in the transports, the unloading process, the driving process, procedures for dealing with sick or injured animals, waiting stall ventilation, underfloor heating, drinking water in the waiting stall, noise-dampening ceilings, water-spray cooling, stall management in terms of rest times after unloading, the time window from stunning to bleeding during which a stun check is carried out for each animal to test for unconsciousness, bleeding check. The high slaughter capacity is also the reason that it is possible for us to define, comply with and review clear guidelines. These requirements are communicated to the employees at Tönnies, to the transporters and to other concerned parties.

CO2 anesthesia is our point of view and of many scientists currently in practice in practice animal-welfare method for deep stunning of pigs. The big advantage is that the animals remain in their usual group during anesthesia. But it is also true that CO2 irritates the mucous membranes of pigs and can cause malaise in animals in the first phase of stunning for a few seconds. We are open to a further development of anesthesia and are actively looking together with Tönnies Research and renowned research partners according to alternatives.

The body structure of cattle makes them impressive animals. Stunning takes place by means of a bolt shot in the brain. So that the employee can put this professionally, the head of the animal is slightly raised and fixed in our systems. The bolt shot causes the animal to lose consciousness which is checked by the cornealreflex test. This is how we ensure that every animal is unconscious.

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    Jörg Altemeier

    Director of Animal Protection Unit