Slaughter is an integral part of animal farming. Without the end game of the killing floor, animal farming wouldn’t exist.

We don’t know for certain how a cow or a chicken feels as they enter the slaughterhouse, or how they feel moments before they are stunned, or have their throats slit when they are not pre-stunned. But we can use our common sense. We know that every single animal who is transported to the slaughterhouse is a sentient being who does not want to die. (Of course, one could argue that the life of many of these factory-farmed animals has been so horrible that it is a mercy to kill them. But this doesn’t factor in the countless examples of factory-farmed animals who have recovered to live a decent life on a farm animal sanctuary).

Here are some very basic conditions that must be met in order to minimise the stress, the suffering and the pain of the slaughterhouse experience:

  • Slaughter must take place as near to the farm as possible. Long journeys add to the misery.
  • Handling of the animals must be carried out in as stress-free a manner as is possible in the circumstances.
  • Death must be instantaneous, and stunning must be carried out in a highly efficient manner.
  • All slaughterhouses must have CCTV installed extensively inside and outside the building.
  • Regular, unannounced inspection of all slaughterhouses, with meaningful fines and, where possible, legal proceedings for all instances of non-compliance.

Around 1 billion chickens a year are ineffectively stunned prior to slaughter in the EU. They experience an agonising electric shock that fails to properly stun them, followed by the pain, and terror, of being slaughtered while fully conscious.

High concentrations of CO2 gas are routinely used to make pigs unconscious prior to slaughter. CO2 gas results in a burning and then drowning-like sensation and can cause around 15-30 seconds of severe suffering prior to the pigs losing consciousness.

Over 2 million animals are exported live out of the EU each year. They are sent to countries where they receive no legal protection at the time of slaughter. Many face agonising, drawn out slaughter.

Approximately 1 billion fish are farmed and slaughtered in the EU each year. Although EU law requires fish to be spared avoidable suffering at slaughter, and although the technology exists to make fish unconscious prior to slaughter, the vast majority are left to suffocate or killed while fully conscious in ways that cause immense suffering.

Very large numbers of animals in the EU – 18% of all sheep, and 27% of all goats – are not killed in official slaughter houses. This means that their slaughter goes entirely unregulated.

Exemptions for ‘Religious Slaughter’

EU law requires animals to be effectively stunned before slaughter. Some religious communities are exempted: (Jewish method – Shechita, or the Muslim method – Halal). Animals Behind Closed Doors believes the law should require all animals to be stunned before slaughter, regardless of the slaughter method.


Article 4(4) of Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing provides for a derogation, in the case of slaughter prescribed by religious rites, from the usual requirement for animals to be stunned before slaughter.

In Ireland, Statutory Instrument No. 292 of 2013 gives effect to the Regulation and allows for a derogation from stunning prior to slaughter in the case of slaughter prescribed by religious rites. In order to avail of this derogation, Food Business Operators are required to obtain approval and demonstrate compliance with Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009

Slaughter without Pre-Stunning in DAFM Approved Slaughter Plants – 2019
Total Slaughter Figure1,745,399 2,781,661 106,144,933 
Total Slaughtered without Pre-Stunning142,783 981,653 
% Without Pre-Stun of Total Kill8.2 35.3 0

There were no goats slaughtered in DAFM Approved Establishments in 2019.

All poultry receive a stun prior to slaughter


A survey carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2019 established that the vast majority (over 90%) of Food Business Operators under the supervision of the Department have CCTV installed on their premises. These CCTV systems generally provide coverage of the areas in such premises in which live animals are kept, as well as the areas in which they are stunned and killed. Domestic legislation provides powers to authorised officers to access CCTV records in the context of animal welfare or food hygiene investigations

Volume of adult bovines slaughtered in 20181,787,064
Volume of adult bovines slaughtered without pre-stunning in 2018142,086
Volume of sheep and lambs slaughtered in 20182,982,396
Volume of sheep and lambs slaughtered without pre-stunning in 2018987,102
Volume of poultry slaughtered 201898,518,850
Volume of poultry slaughtered without pre-stunning 20180
Volume of unweaned calves slaughtered in 2018 Calves 8 – 12 months (Z) slaughtered in 2018 Calves < 8 months (V) slaughtered in 2018Not recorded 1406 8530
Volume of pigs slaughtered in 20183,400,130
Volume of pigs slaughtered using CO2 stunning (2018)3,400,130
DAFM Approved Establishments
*FOI on total slaughter