Throwaway Lives | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Briefing Notes

Briefing Notes

Throwaway Lives

Stop the massacre of pregnant animals

How many pregnant animals are killed?

DEFRA say that they do not see any justification for recording the number of pregnant animals who are slaughtered. However, a scientific paper published by the British Cattle Veterinary Association* reveals that 150,000 pregnant cows are sent to slaughter each year. At least 40,000 of these cows are in the last stages of their pregnancy and are bearing calves who may be capable of independent life.

Why are pregnant cows being killed?

90% of the cows are dairy cows and the majority of farmers do not even realize that they are pregnant. In the BCVA survey, 50.9% thought the cow wasn’t pregnant and 27.3% said they did not know. Infertility was cited as the most common reason for culling an animal, followed by mastitis (a painful swelling of the udders common in dairy cows) and then old age. So some cows are being sent to slaughter because they are assumed to be infertile when they are in fact pregnant.

Dairy cows who are over thirty months of age must be slaughtered and incinerated under BSE regulations. The compensation payment structure encourages the killing of pregnant cows. Animals sent through market are weighed liveweight and the farmer is compensated per kilo. If the animal is pregnant, the farmer will receive extra money.

How are the animals killed?

There are no special regulations in place to protect pregnant animals in slaughterhouses. Viva! has filmed in abattoirs and conducted a full investigation of the UK’s slaughter industry. We found that stunning techniques are frequently inadequate and that animals routinely regain consciousness whilst bleeding to death.

Each year, 5 million electrically stunned sheep regain consciousness before they die from loss of blood.
1.8 million electrically stunned pigs a year regain consciousness before they die. 244,800 pigs a year are incorrectly stunned and do not lose consciousness at all.
Each year, up to 230,000 cattle are not correctly stunned with the captive bolt pistol. They will have to endure the pain of being shot in the head and will then have to be shot again or knifed whilst conscious.

Do unborn animals suffer as their mothers are slaughtered?

The RSPCA’s chief veterinary officer states, “The problem with killing heavily pregnant ewes is that if you shoot them in the head, the foetus does not die instantly with the mother and it is a prolonged and rather horrible death.”

After animals have been stunned, they are knifed and left to bleed out for 20 seconds (sheep and pigs) or 30 seconds (cattle). When asked about the slaughter of pregnant cows, Professor Donald Broom (Cambridge university animal welfare specialist) said, “After stunning and bleeding the cow will be dead. The calf will also die but a little later - probably 30-90 seconds”. This means that the foetus would still be living while its mother’s front feet, head and possibly hide are removed.
Nobody is sure of the exact moment when foetuses die. It is possible that they may still be living when the mother is disembowelled.

Gabriele Meurer MRCVS, a former official veterinary surgeon in UK abattoirs, says,
“What is happening right now in British slaughterhouses is quite simply a scandal. Sometimes when these creatures are hanging on the line bleeding to death, you can see the unborn calves kicking inside their mothers’ wombs. I, as a vet, am not supposed to do anything about this. Unborn calves do not exist according to the regulations. I just had to watch, do nothing and keep quiet. It broke my
heart. I felt like a criminal. I left the Meat Hygiene Service and the country - completely disillusioned and full of disgust.”

Is there legislation in place to protect pregnant animals and unborn babies?
Animals are not supposed to be transported if they are likely to give birth during transport. However, Viva! campaigners have filmed animals giving birth at market when they were about to be loaded up for the slaughterhouse. The BCVA paper also shows that pregnant cows are frequently slaughtered in the third trimester of their pregnancy.

There is no legislation to protect unborn animals in abattoirs - even if they are days away from being born.

Christopher Day MRCVS says, “The routine slaughter of known pregnant animals in the UK should be made illegal forthwith, on humane grounds. In this country we make pretensions to be compassionate to animals. This practice is wholly inconsistent with such pretensions.”

What happens to the foetus?

DEFRA says that, “ The uterus and dead foetus is sent with the green offal from the slaughterhouse for disposal by rendering from any pregnant animals which are under thirty months when slaughtered. All material from animals over thirty months (which is the majority of cows slaughtered) has to be separated, stained yellow and destroyed by rendering and incineration.”

Is the government doing anything to stop the slaughter?

When Viva! asked what the government planned to do to prevent so many pregnant cows from being sent to slaughter, DEFRA replied, “We do not believe that the slaughter of pregnant cows presents a specific welfare concern... We do not believe further legal measures are necessary to protect the welfare of pregnant cows or unborn calves.”

However, they say that, “Effective pregnancy detection lessens the risk of inadvertently sending pregnant animals for slaughter”. The department is currently consulting on proposals to change the law to allow ‘per rectum’ ultrasound scanning in cattle to be carried out by, “trained and competent non-veterinarians as well as by veterinary surgeons.”

DEFRA has been consulting on these proposals for over three years. Consultation papers reveal that, “Concern has been expressed by the veterinary profession and some animal protection societies that use of this procedure by untrained non-veterinarians to detect pregnancy in cattle could cause welfare problems. Invasive techniques of this nature have the potential to cause serious injury, such as perforation of the rectal wall.”

What is Viva!’s position?

As a vegetarian and vegan campaigning organisation, Viva! is opposed to all animal slaughter.
To slaughter heavily pregnant animals and throw away fully formed foetuses is a barbarity beyond description.


* GH Singleton et al, A survey to establish why pregnant cows are culled, BCVA Edinburgh 1996.