Slaughtering near the farm: The complicated death in the pasture

Status: 07.03.2023 8:20 a.m

Politicians are campaigning for the death of animals close to home. They should be slaughtered as gently as possible and without long transport. This is often a challenge for farmers and authorities.

By Jörg Poppendieck, rbb

“Actually, we wanted to slaughter two of my cattle this morning,” says Ralf Engelhardt. “But the butcher saw his finger in the mouth, so the action had to be cancelled.” By action, the farmer from Rieben in Brandenburg means semi-mobile slaughter, also known as slaughter near the farm. The animals on the pasture are stunned with a bolt shot or a pasture shot.

A cut is then made through the throat, causing the cattle to bleed out and die, says the farmer. The animal then has to be driven to a cutting plant in a special slaughterhouse – this is required by an EU regulation.

Death comes quickly and awaits

The 58-year-old farmer, who keeps 190 cattle, is something of a pioneer when it comes to on-farm slaughter. He was one of the first to use this type of pasture killing in Germany. “I wanted to spare the animals the stress of a long journey to a slaughterhouse,” says Engelhardt. “In addition, I earn more if I market the animals directly and don’t sell them to four dealers.”

Most animals in Germany are still caught, loaded and taken away on farms. At the slaughterhouse, they are unloaded, taken to a stunning box, stunned and also killed by a throat cut. Politicians, however, want to get away from the high number of live animal transports and promote slaughter close to the farm.

“Rules are sometimes unrealistic”

Since 2021, for example, the EU has allowed up to three cattle to be killed in the pasture per slaughter process, albeit under strict conditions. For example, an officially appointed veterinarian must be present at every slaughter and the animals must be transported away in a special trailer that has been previously certified by an authority.

Also, there is a deadline. If the animals are not chilled, they must be transported within two hours to a slaughterhouse that is also certified. That is a lot of work, says farmer Engelhardt. “That annoys those who do it sensibly. But there are also black sheep, and that’s why there are such regulations.”

“Slaughterhouse structure collapses dramatically”

Not only the EU Commission in Brussels with its strategy “farm to fork” – from the farm to the fork – relies on killing on the pasture. At the beginning of the year, a funding program for mobile slaughter was set up at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture in Berlin. “Meat from mobile slaughter has the potential to add value to rural areas,” says Parliamentary Secretary of State for Agriculture Ophelia Nick – the journey from the pasture to the local butcher.

When asked about the political commitment, Andrea Fink-Keßler takes a deep breath. The doctor of agricultural engineering and chairwoman of the association of farmers with artisanal meat processing speaks of many obstacles on the way there. There are hardly any butcher shops including EU-approved slaughterhouses. For many farms it is currently difficult to find a slaughterhouse in their area.

Scale of fees puts small businesses at a disadvantage

The Federal Ministry also speaks of a progressive centralization of the slaughter industry. The reason for this is a lack of staff and high costs. Politics is also responsible for the latter, says Fink-Keßler. “The costs for meat inspection and waste are set politically. The small artisan businesses have to pay many times more per slaughtered animal than the large companies.”

An exception is Bavaria. Here the cabinet recently decided to standardize the fees. Smaller companies in particular should benefit from this. A further challenge in the expansion of slaughtering close to the farm is the additional personnel and time required for the veterinary authorities. This is sometimes significant, reports Philipp Rolzhäuser from the University of Leipzig. Individual authorities are already reaching their limits.

Resignation to new EU regulation

On the organic farm “Stolze Kuh” in eastern Brandenburg, slaughtering has been going on close to the farm for years, with the so-called pasture shot. “So far, our animals have always died where they were born,” says organic farmer Anja Hradetzky – on the pasture. This was possible because there was an exception for animals living outside all year round. For the past few years, a hunter with the necessary permit has come every two weeks and shot the animals in the head.

This came to an end with the EU regulation from 2021. The exception of the past few years has been cashed. Also Hradetzky now needs a mobile battle unit. “Building such a trailer with a drip tray is complex and expensive to buy, around 30,000 euros. We can’t afford it.” Instead of dying on the pasture, Hradetzsky’s animals die at a neighboring small butcher nearby who is also allowed to slaughter.

“A bureaucracy madness”

The organic farmer sounds resigned when she talks about the requirements she has to meet. The will of the Ministers of Agriculture in Berlin and Potsdam was there on the subject of “slaughtering close to the farm”. “In the end, it fails because of a quick and uncomplicated implementation in the interest of the animals.” The Brandenburg native reports that she sometimes meets other farmers with their animals in the nearby butcher’s shop and they puzzle together about which forms have to be filled out and how. “I studied and I hardly understand it. It’s bureaucratic madness.”

The alternative would be to order the four dealers, who would then pick up their animals in a large truck and take them to a large, distant slaughterhouse. But Hradetzky doesn’t want that. “I want our cattle to be able to die in the pastures again. It’s not difficult for me to see them die there because I know they’ve had a good life – the best possible.”

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