TIR analyzes the Federal Council’s rejection of video surveillance in slaughterhouses
After an investigation by the Federal Food Chain Unit (FFCU) identified severe violations in slaughterhouses, Daniel Jositsch (SP/ZH), member of the Council of States, and Meret Schneider (GPS/ZH), member of the National Council, are now demanding an independent control of the slaughter process. However, the Federal Council has rejected the introduction of video surveillance in slaughterhouses. The Stiftung für das Tier im Recht (TIR) gives its opinion.
Hidden video recordings from slaughterhouses in different Swiss cantons have repeatedly brought severe violations against animal welfare to light in the past. The recordings showed for example mistreatment in the form of extremely rough handling of sheep, pigs, calves and other animals as well as painful killing through improper and thus inadequate anesthesia, see for example the two criminal charges against two facilities in the canton of Vaud filed by TIR in October 2018.
Between January 2018 and March 2019, the Federal Food Chain Unit (FFCU) conducted a nationwide investigation in 67 slaughter facilities throughout Switzerland. The investigation showed that in many slaughterhouses, and in particular in those with low or medium capacity, the success of the anesthesia and the bleeding was not correctly monitored or not monitored at all. The FFCU’s report provides evidence of systematic shortcomings regarding anesthesia and bleeding of animals.
According to current legislation, slaughterhouses must be inspected by officials. However, these inspections mainly relate to the hygiene provisions in the field of food safety. While the health of the animals is visually checked upon their arrival at the slaughterhouse and the dead carcasses are thoroughly examined to ensure that they are fit and safe for human consumption, the delicate process of killing, which is relevant from an animal welfare point of view, is almost entirely within the responsibility of the slaughterhouse operators. Although the latter are obliged to document and carry out self-checks, an independent supervision does not take place. Only the documentation is officially inspected on a random sample basis.
With that in mind, it is not surprising that the above described severe violations concerning anesthesia and bleeding of the animals are not a rare exception. With regard to the immense suffering caused to the animals through inadequate anesthesia or bleeding, the reliance on self-control by slaughterhouses as a basis for enforcement for the veterinary authorities is insufficient. The slaughterhouses need to be controlled independently – either by means of video surveillance or by a competent official on site.
Therefore, in March 2020, Daniel Jositsch, professor of criminal law, submitted a motion to the Council of States for the introduction of compulsory video surveillance in slaughterhouses. Moreover, at the beginning of May 2020, Meret Schneider, co-managing director of Sentience Politics, submitted a motion to the National Council for the introduction of a control of the anesthesia and bleeding success by a veterinary official on site.
In the meantime, the Federal Council has taken position regarding Jositsch’s motion andacknowledges the need for immediate action, but refers to the measures already initiated by the responsible federal office.
Those measures comprise an improved training of the slaughter staff, an optimization of the slaughter process, in particular an adjustment of individual anesthetic methods, as well as a revision of the self-control system by the slaughterhouses. The Federal Council considers these precautions to be sufficient. On the other hand, it recognizes the use of video cameras – while respecting the personal rights of employees – as a suitable method in order to document and monitor if the anesthesia and bleeding is compliant with animal protection requirements. Nonetheless, with reference to the above-mentioned measures, the Federal Council considers this instrument to be disproportionate.
An improvement of the slaughtering process through appropriate training of the staff and the continuous implementation of new knowledge on anesthetic methods are, in TIR’s view, basic prerequisites for the legal eligibility of a slaughterhouse. However, adjustments in this area do not make effective controls obsolete as monitoring the implementation of the relevant requirements is a central element of animal protection enforcement.
The current system based on self-control has proved to be inadequate. The way in which documentation is provided is not the problem here. It is rather the fundamental trust in self-responsible compliance with animal welfare provisions which is misplaced in such a sensitive area. A mere adjustment of the documentation within the framework of self-control is therefore an inadequate solution for such a severe enforcement problem.
In the view of the Federal Council, the introduction of video surveillance is disproportionate. The Federal Council fails to recognize that the application of the principle of proportionality is not the same as insisting on the mildest possible measure. If the milder measure is not effective, a more stringent or suitable and effective measure must be taken in order to satisfy the legal requirements. Once again, the Federal Council's view shows the trivialization of even elementary animal welfare concerns and the one-sided interpretation of the principle of proportionality in favor of human interests. This interpretation must be rejected as unconstitutional.
The measures proposed by the authorities to improve the situation only partially address the shortcomings found. Furthermore, they are insufficient with regards to the urgent need to ensure that serious animal welfare violations can be prevented in the future. Only an official inspection can be described as suitable in terms of proportionality. TIR therefore hopes that the justified concerns of Daniel Jositsch and Meret Schneider will find support in the parliament.