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?

  • 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 a separate unit for animal protection and animal health.

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

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.

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 corn 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 been proven to have a calming effect on the animals. Pan pipe 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 state of narcosis. The animals should not wake up after being stunned and before they are killed.
This video shows in detail how the pig stunning process works.

After deep anaesthesia, the animals are bled. Here the main artery near the heart is opened with a sticking knife so that the blood can quickly run out.
With the installation of a double bleeding check during the slaughter process, Tönnies guarantees that no animal still shows any reflex:

  1. Check level: technical check of bleeding using scales to weigh each individual animal to determine bleeding. If the bleeding is too little, the animal is pierced again so that optimum bleeding is still performed for these animals.
  2. Test of corneal reflex: after bleeding, the successful slaughter is confirmed with a further individual animal control in which the corneal reflex is tested. Specially trained employees carry out the test.

For all steps in the slaughter process, we have described clear and strict regulations which at minimum meet the statutory requirements and our own concepts. To ensure that these regulations are implemented, employees who deal with living animals receive thorough ongoing training. Every employee who handles living animals has been trained and has proven their specialist knowledge in an official test. Through continuous employee training and development and a constant information flow, we ensure that the animal protection and animal welfare criteria are taken into account in the work.

The employees’ work and also the technical facilities in our plants are monitored with our own daily checks. Internal audits complete the work. Here we check whether the control systems function. We are also increasingly using video monitoring to obtain an overview of all areas in which living animals are handled. We are thus able to retrospectively identify how the processes function. Official veterinarians are also always present during the slaughter process to monitor our work.

The path to cattle slaughter in our abattoir in Kempten

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- to three-hour waiting stall period
  • Movement to the stunning facility along a rising and circular race system
  • In isolated cases, recorded use of electronic prods
  • Bolt shot stunning with permanent video monitoring
  • Eyelid reflex 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 up to twohours. 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 a design 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 eyelid reflex test ensures that each individual animal is unconscious and the slaughter process can now be completed.

The complete cattle slaughter process is reviewed through internal audits and by official staff. We are also increasingly using video monitoring to retain an overview of all areas in which living 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

Through logistics control of cattle transports, we have already significantly reduced the waiting times before unloading the animals – and we are still working on this.

We are expanding video monitoring of abattoirs. This must be in accordance with data protection regulations and will thus be planned well.

In addition to the established training of employees who work with animal protection on site, modern e-learning training will also be implemented.

Through Tönnies Research, we have initiated research into alternatives to stunning for pigs – as soon as findings are available, we will identify how we can improve.

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 irritates the mucous membranes of the pigs and makes them feel uncomfortable for several seconds in the initial phase of stunning, that is correct. It is our view and that of many scientists that it is nonetheless the most animal-welfare-friendly method for deep stunning of pigs currently used. We are open to the further development of stunning methods and are actively looking for alternatives. In this regard, Tönnies Research has supported various research into improved methods.

The body structure of cattle makes them impressive animals. Stunning takes place by means of a bolt shot. To make sure that nothing goes wrong, the head of the animal is gently lifted and fixed in our machines so that the employee can correctly fire the bolt shot. The bolt shot causes the animal to lose consciousness which is checked by the eyelid reflex test. This is how we ensure that every animal is unconscious.

Ask us!

Your opinion and questions are important to us. Please ask if you have a particular interest or do not understand something. Here you have the opportunity to form an opinion at first hand.

Our contact partner Jörg Altemeier, Director of the Animal Protection Unit, answers your relevant questions here. In the case of similar questions, we group the answers together.

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    Jörg Altemeier

    Director of Animal Protection Unit