Red and white meat slaughterhouses: standard operating procedures

What you need standard operating procedures for, the role of animal welfare officers, livestock unit limits, and record keeping in slaughterhouses.

Applies to England

All slaughterhouses (abattoirs) must meet the same animal welfare standards. If you operate a slaughterhouse you must have detailed instructions for each type of operation your staff carry out involving animals. These instructions are known as standard operating procedures (SOPs).

SOPs are designed to spare animals any avoidable pain or distress as part of Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) regulations.

What you need SOPs for

You need separate SOPs for different types of animals, such as separate SOPs for unloading sheep and unloading cattle.

The operations that you must have SOPs for include:

  • unloading animals
  • keeping animals in holding pens and fields (lairage)
  • moving and handling animals
  • restraining animals
  • stunning and killing animals
  • monitoring the stunning of animals
  • religious slaughter
  • animal welfare officer (AWO) role and responsibilities

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) can ask to see your SOPs. You can look at a sample SOP on British Meat Processors Association website.

SOP for animal stunning

You must use stunning methods that meet the requirements for red meat stunning and white meat stunning.

In your SOP for stunning you must:

  • state the stunning method to be used and the required parameters (such as electrical current, gas concentrations, cartridge power)
  • include the manufacturer’s recommendations on using and maintaining the stunning equipment
  • explain how to check an animal has been properly stunned and check for signs of consciousness and unconsciousness
  • explain what to do if an animal hasn’t been properly stunned

Appointing an AWO

Red meat slaughterhouses

You must appoint at least 1 AWO if you operate a slaughterhouse that slaughters more than 1,000 livestock units a year. Some animals count as a whole livestock unit, others count as part of a unit.

Animal Number of livestock units
Adult cattle and horses 1 unit
Other cattle 0.5 unit
Pigs over 100 kg 0.2 unit
Other pigs 0.15 unit
Sheep and goats 0.1 unit
Lambs, kids and piglets under 15 kg 0.05 unit

White meat slaughterhouses

You must appoint at least 1 AWO if you slaughter more than 150,000 birds or rabbits a year.

Read about other white meat slaughterhouse requirements you must follow.

Role of an AWO

You must set out the AWO’s responsibilities in an SOP and give them, and all staff, a copy.

You must make sure that the AWO is present whenever you slaughter animals. The AWO must help all staff follow the rules on animal welfare.

You must give the AWO the authority to monitor any operations and put things right, for example correcting mistakes or reporting incidents to the manager.

Your AWO cannot be the same person as your on-site Food Standards Agency (FSA) vet - these are 2 different roles.

AWO training

The AWO must hold a certificate of competence (CoC) for all operations they’re responsible for.

Read EU information on the role of an AWO.

Keeping records on animal welfare

Your AWO must record all action they take to improve animal welfare at your slaughterhouse.

You must keep these records for at least a year as the FSA can ask to see them.

Keeping records on checks

You should keep records when you do your regular checks on stunning, so you can check that stunning is being done efficiently.

You carry out these checks on a sample of animals after you’ve stunned them, to make sure they:

  • do not show signs of consciousness
  • cannot feel pain

For details on the data you must record, see stunning in red meat slaughterhouses and white meat slaughterhouse requirements. The FSA can ask to see your records.

Maintaining equipment

You must:

  • maintain equipment for restraining and stunning in line with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • keep records each time you carry out maintenance
  • keep these records for at least a year as the FSA can ask to see them.

Records on stunning

You must keep records on stunning animals if you’re using new stunning equipment bought since 1 January 2013.

You must keep these records for all stunning equipment from 8 December 2019.

For each animal you stun, you must keep records on:

  • electrical stunning - current, voltage and length of exposure
  • gas stunning - gas concentrations and length of exposure
Published 15 October 2015