The Report

Why has the RSPCA produced this report?

The RSPCA is concerned about the differences in the regulation of Australian slaughtering establishments across jurisdictions and the current gaps in those regulatory systems. These inconsistencies and gaps must be addressed. Having a consistent regulatory framework to regulate and enforce animal welfare across Australia, will facilitate continual improvement of animal welfare practices at slaughtering establishments.

This report identifies gaps in the regulatory system relating to animal welfare in abattoirs (domestic and export), poultry processors and knackeries and provides recommendations for how these gaps could be addressed to improve animal welfare in the sector.  The report was developed to inform the Standards and Guidelines process and to encourage regulators and industry to improve minimum animal welfare standards.

What were the main findings of the report on how animal welfare is regulated at slaughtering establishments in Australia?

The results of the regulatory analysis in report found significant inconsistencies between jurisdictions in regulatory requirements, compliance and enforcement actions across slaughtering establishments. To address the current inconsistencies, the report makes 13 recommendations in relation to animal welfare requirements, audit frequency, auditor training, oversight and CCTV use, company training, and transparency.

Having a consistent regulatory framework to regulate and enforce animal welfare across Australia will facilitate the continual improvement of animal welfare practices at abattoirs, poultry processors and knackeries.

How were the scores calculated?

Seven key measures were chosen because they are all critical to verifying compliance with animal welfare standards. These seven measures are: animal welfare requirements, audit frequency, auditor training, oversight, CCTV use, company training and transparency.

The scores demonstrate and provide examples of effective methods to ensure compliance with animal welfare standards. Each key measure is scored using a scale of 0 to 4, where 0 is the least effective and 4 is the most effective method. It is intended that these scores will be regularly updated, and progress tracked if and when there are improvements in regulating animal welfare.

The number that is shown on the map for each state or territory is the average score of the seven key measures for that state or territory.

Why are the scores important?

The scores provide a benchmark and allow for comparison against federal, state and territory regulation of animal welfare at slaughtering establishments.

Providing a visual comparison of regulation on a federal, state and territory level will increase transparency around the regulation of animal welfare at slaughtering establishments. This will open the discussion and encourage a more collaborative approach to regulating animal welfare at slaughtering establishments across states and territories. Having national consistency for the way in which animal welfare is regulated and enforced in Australia is critical to providing public assurance and protecting animal welfare. This is particularly relevant for slaughtering establishments as many of these animals are being transported nationally across state and territory borders for slaughter.

How often will the scores be reviewed?

The scores for each jurisdiction are based on information as of January 2021. These scores will be reviewed and updated at least every two years, meaning they will next be updated in 2023.

How will this report help improve animal welfare?

The scorecard and accompanying microsite provide a public platform for the RSPCA to track progress in animal welfare regulation over time, as well as improve the transparency of how animal welfare is regulated at slaughtering establishments.

The report will be used for engagement with government and industry to bring awareness to the current gaps and inconsistencies in regulation across Australia.

The report has also been provided to all state and territory government regulators to support the development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines for processing establishments. The report contains a number of important recommendations which relate specifically to the proposed Standards.

General slaughtering establishments

How many animals are killed in Australia?

Whether or not you eat meat or buy meat-based products like pet food, the welfare of animals that are slaughtered is something that affects everyone. It is something happening every day to hundreds of thousands of animals in Australia. According to ABS statistics, from December 2019 until December 2020 7.1 million cattle, 6 million sheep, 19.9 million lambs, 5.3 million pigs, and 665 million chickens were slaughtered – that’s more than 703 million animals.

What is the difference between an abattoir, a poultry processor, and a knackery?

An abattoir is a facility where farm animals (e.g. cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and other livestock) are slaughtered for human consumption.

A poultry processor is a specific type of abattoir where poultry (e.g. chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys) are slaughtered for human consumption.

A knackery is a facility that processes animals for animal food (such as pet meat) or related by-products, where animals are either killed on-site or brought to the facility dead after being killed on-farm.

What is the difference between an export and domestic establishment?

Export slaughter establishments are abattoirs and poultry processors that are registered and approved to supply overseas countries. These establishments are regulated by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and must also meet specific importing country requirements.

Domestic slaughter establishments are only approved to supply the Australian market and are regulated by their relevant state or territory governments.

Where can I learn more about this topic?

The RSPCA’s position

What is the RSPCA’s view of farming?

The RSPCA recognises that millions of animals are farmed for food and fibre – and one of the best ways to improve the welfare of these animals is to advocate for these animals to be treated more humanely, from birth to slaughter.

We recognise the need to balance animal welfare with the commercial realities of farming to ensure a viable livestock sector where farmers have the resources to properly care for their animals. We believe that good animal welfare and the needs of individual animals can be met, while at the same time providing the community with food and fibre and having a productive and profitable livestock sector.

What is the RSPCA’s policy on humane killing?

The RSPCA advocates for the humane treatment of all animals at every stage of their life, from birth through to death. The RSPCA defines humane killing as when an animal is either killed instantly or rendered insensible until death ensues, without pain, suffering or distress. High standards of animal welfare and effective regulation of abattoirs, poultry processors and knackeries in Australia is essential to ensure that animals slaughtered for food are humanely killed.

To read RSPCA’s Policy G1 Humane killing click here.
To read RSPCA’s Position paper G3 – Welfare of animals at abattoirs and knackeries click here.

What is the RSPCA’s view of ritual/religious slaughter?

The main animal welfare concern with ritual/religious slaughter is whether animals are rendered unconscious (stunned) before they are killed.

For halal slaughter in Australia, all export and most domestic slaughtering establishments comply with standard slaughter practice where animals are stunned using reversible methods prior to slaughter. For kosher slaughter, there is no requirement for animals to be stunned prior to slaughter.

Although reversible stunning is far better from an animal welfare perspective than no stunning, there is a greater risk that an animal could regain consciousness during the slaughter process. Irreversible stunning methods are more effective in inducing unconsciousness than reversible stunning methods and are therefore preferred.

The RSPCA is concerned that there are much greater risks of an animal suffering during slaughter without prior stunning than during conventional slaughter. Slaughter without prior stunning requires additional handling and restraint, meaning animals experience more fear and stress. The throat cut severs the major blood vessels in the neck and the surrounding tissue (including skin, muscle, trachea, oesophagus, and nerves). When an animal is fully conscious during the throat cut, the extensive tissue damage and blood loss means the animal experiences pain before death. For these reasons, the RSPCA is strongly opposed to all forms of slaughter without prior stunning of the animal.

What can you do to help if you are concerned about unstunned slaughter in Australia?

Permission to conduct religious slaughter without stunning is granted by the relevant state or territory authority. If you are opposed to slaughter without stunning and would like to take action, click here.

What is the RSPCA’s view of knackeries?

A knackery is a facility that processes animals for animal food (such as pet meat) or related by-products. At knackeries animals may be either killed on-site or brought to the facility dead after being killed on-farm and then processed. Species killed at knackeries are often those that are considered of lower value than those intended for human consumption, such as old dairy cows, bulls, sheep (usually older wethers (castrated male sheep), horses and donkeys.

The results of the regulatory analysis in report found knackeries were lacking in effective and consistent regulation for animal welfare across all jurisdictions. An example of this inconsistency is that the way a knackery is classified in each jurisdiction determines which regulation it must comply with (e.g. Australian standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption (AS 4696:2007) or Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Pet Meat (AS 4841:2006)). Across all jurisdictions there is also minimal oversight during processing, as well as no regulatory requirements for formal company training or CCTV use.

In addition to these concerns, the regulations themselves (i.e. AS 4696:2007, AS 4841:2006, and the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments) lack specific standards for some of the animals killed at knackeries, such as horses.

Concerns have been raised in recent years over the treatment of horses at knackeries. Where horses have reached the end of their life and require euthanasia, ideally they should be humanely killed on farm by a registered veterinarian or a trained and competent firearm operator, rather than transported to a knackery. Where horses are taken to a knackery to be killed, they should be individually handled using low-stress methods, and effectively positioned or restrained to ensure they are humanely killed. As with on-farm killing, operators should be trained and competent. To protect the welfare of horses it is also critical that horse-specific standards are included within Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Livestock at Processing Establishments.

Take action

What can I do to help?

If you are also concerned about the way animal welfare is being regulated at slaughtering establishments in Australia and you would like to see a change in government regulation and an improvement in animal welfare, one of the best ways to do something about it is to write to the federal Minister for Agriculture or to your state or territory minister responsible for farm animal welfare.

In the absence of better regulation of animal welfare, the RSPCA encourages Australians who eat meat, fish and eggs to look for RSPCA Approved. The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is Australia's leading independent certification scheme focused on animal welfare. By choosing products farmed to higher welfare standards and supporting farming practices that prioritise animal welfare, we can make a positive difference to the way farm animals are treated.

To find out more, read the RSPCA Knowledgebase: