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By the end of 2029, will the European Union require commercially farmed fish to be stunned before being slaughtered?
In the European Union, an estimated 500 million to 1.7 billion farmed fish were killed for human consumption in 2015, comprising a range of species that are slaughtered in a variety of ways (CIWF, 2018). Yet, despite the mounting evidence of fish sentience, and the substantial numbers involved in aquaculture, fish are currently excluded from much of the European Slaughter Regulation (European Union, 2009).
The key principle however, that animals “shall be spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during their killing and related operations”, does apply to fish (European Union, 2009; p.9). Humane slaughter methods should therefore be used, ensuring that fish are effectively stunned prior to killing or killed with a method that guarantees an immediate loss of consciousness.
The main farmed species in the EU are: Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, common carp, European sea bass, gilthead sea bream, turbot, North African catfish, European eel, and Atlantic Bluefin tuna (ordered by greatest tonnage). Humane stunning systems exist or can be developed for all of these, but progress towards this goal varies for each species.(Compassion in World Farming, 2018)
There is legislation in place to regulate the slaughter of animals in the European Union. Yet, while Council Regulation 1099/2009 (on the protection of animals at the time of killing) includes specific requirements for the slaughter of terrestrial species farmed for food, fish are excluded from much of the recommendations (European Union, 2009). As explained therein, this is due to differences in physiology and slaughter context, and less developed understanding of the stunning process for fish. However, it is stated explicitly that the key principle remains applicable to fish, which states that (Article 3(1)):
Animals shall be spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during their killing and related operations.
Accordingly, there is a legal requirement for member states to take action to avoid, or at least minimise, the suffering of fish at slaughter.
Advocacy groups have suggested using stunning techniques. In 2009, the Animal Health and Welfare panel (EFSA) recommended the “urgent development of commercial stunning methods to induce immediate (or rapid) unconsciousness in… seabream” (EFSA, 2009, p. 2).
However, the Humane Slaughter Association (2018) points out that further development of humane stunning techniques is required for a greater range of species of finfish than current techniques currently permit, to suit their various rearing environments and to minimise handling and movement prior to death which can cause stress and chemical and physical deterioration in product quality.
By the end of 2029, will the European Union enact legislation or a directive that requires commercially farmed fish to be stunned before being slaughtered?
This question resolves positively if by the end of 2029, the European Union enacts legislation or a directive that requires at least 50% of all commercially farmed fish in the European Union to be stunned before slaughter by any method method that renders the fish immobile or unconscious, with or without killing the animal, when or immediately prior to slaughtering them for food. Positive resolution requires this legislation or directive to have come into effect before the end of 2029. Methods for stunning include percussive or electrical stunning. Live chilling, or asphyxiation in any manner (e.g., air, CO2) are not qualifying stunning procedures.
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