How can slaughter be human

Time for low-stress slaughter

Even if we don't like to think about it: At the end of the life of an animal raised for human consumption, there is death. But how can slaughter be designed in such a way that it is as stress-free as possible for the animals?


In 2012 there were around 5,100 slaughterhouses in Germany. The ten largest of these businesses generated roughly the same turnover this year as all the remaining 5,090 butchers and meat workers combined. What does this mean for the slaughter of an animal?

Meat production used to be a craft that was well rewarded. Today, according to the Heinrich Böll Foundation's “Meat Atlas 2016”, the meat industry in Germany is a business that is determined by poor work and wage conditions. According to an estimate by the food-enjoyment-restaurants union (NGG), one third of the 30,000 employees who slaughter and cut up in Germany are Southeastern Europeans.

They usually do their work in piece. The technically perfectly equipped large farms can slaughter up to 1,500 pigs per hour. This means that a worker has to start a fatal bleeding stab every few seconds. This time pressure produces higher error rates, which means that animals suffer. In addition, the concentration at a few locations means that the animals sometimes have to travel long distances to the slaughterhouses.

Small farm slaughter

A visit to the Wiedenbauer organic farm in Kümmersbruck shows that things can be done quite differently. The tranquil farm in the Upper Palatinate has existed since the 1980s and has been managed by Jens Birkmann for eight years. The farm has six hectares of land, and the farmer cultivates a further six hectares.

The open stable is right behind the house with the EU slaughterhouse and butcher's shop. A small herd of Limousin cattle of around 15 animals is usually stabled here. “Last year, however, I had to reduce my number of animals due to a lack of feed,” explains the organic farmer. Due to the prolonged drought, the growth was sparse. Although there has been little rain so far this year, Jens Birkmann has already brought in a load of hay. Soon animals will be living on the farm again for their own slaughter and marketing.

He currently purchases the cattle and pigs for the production of his meat and sausage products from organic farms in the vicinity. The animals have to cover a maximum of 20 kilometers during transport. When you arrive at the Wiedenbauer organic farm, there is no assembly line waiting for you, no piecework, no time pressure. Jens Birkmann takes time for the slaughter. It is important to him that the animals must not experience any stress before they die.

Pigs, for example, shouldn't be herded. The best thing to do is to just open the door and give the animal time to find its way into the slaughter area on its own, he explains. “I don't have the pressure that the next supplier wants to unload his animals in ten minutes. You need time for the slaughter and I have it. ”That is why he only slaughters one cattle a day. Because cattle are sensitive to smells. If an animal has already been slaughtered, the following animals become restless.

In addition to slaughtering for his own marketing, Jens Birkmann also takes on contract slaughtering for farmers in the area. As a farmer, he is used to dealing with animals. Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats - every species and animal has its own needs. Sheep are different in nature from pigs and a bull behaves differently from a cow. That takes experience and calm. If you are relaxed, the animals stay calm too.

Direct marketing strengthens the relationship with customers

On Friday just before lunchtime, the first customers come to the organic farm for sale. You buy chops and minced meat, sausages and beef broth by the glass at the small shop counter. The close contact that the butcher has with his customers is important to him. On the one hand, there is a lot of need for explanation: where do the animals come from? How are they raised? Where are they slaughtered? - When customers find out that the animals are raised in a species-appropriate manner on small organic farms in the region, they also accept the higher sales price. The meat of these animals has its value and high quality. “The customers who come to me want this quality,” says Jens Birkmann. “You notice that the roast or sausage taste better. And I can tell you: We did it all ourselves. I think that's important."

Sometimes Jens Birkmann sells three pigs a week, sometimes only half a week. He only slaughters as many animals as he needs. This also means that not all parts are always available. “A pig only has two fillets,” he clarifies. He can explain this to the customer in a conversation and arouse their understanding. Fillet will be back next week.

For many people, this direct connection between meat and animals is no longer a matter of course. Village battles, as they used to be commonplace, no longer exist today. Slaughtering as a normal event where everyone helped and the meat was divided has disappeared from our society. Buying pre-packaged cuts in the supermarket alienated from the necessary act of killing an animal.

Is it possible to tell from the meat how an animal was slaughtered? - "Yes. The worst thing for pork is when the animal is slaughtered under stress. You can tell the difference. ”When an animal is under stress, its brain releases the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline accelerates the breakdown of glycogen into lactic acid. In pigs, the sudden excess of lactic acid leads to the so-called PSE effect: the meat is pale, soft and watery. It is different with cattle and sheep: the acid created by the stress is broken down before the animals die. In the end, their meat does not contain enough acid and cannot mature properly. It becomes dark, firm and dry - the so-called DFD meat. Both PSE and DFD meat are suitable for human consumption. It just no longer corresponds to the quality expectations of consumers.