Pigs are usually slaughtered at 4-7 months. Pigs intended for pork are usually slaughtered 1-2 months earlier than pigs for bacon. 10 million pigs were slaughtered in the UK in 2012 (9.8 million in 2011) (1).

Pigs are stunned and shackled before having the blood vessels in their throat cut (sticking). The animal dies by being bled to death. Pigs are usually stunned by an electric current applied by electrode tongs. These are placed on either side of the brain, usually either side of the neck behind the ears so that sufficient current is passed through. The current should induce a state of immediate epilepsy (electroplectic shock) in the brain, making the animal unconscious (8).

A survey of pig slaughtering procedures was carried out in the UK (9). The factors affecting slaughter included the placement of tongs on the animal, the average current strength passed through the brain and the length of time that the tongs were in place for. The survey showed that a significant percentage of the tong applications observed in the traditional stunning pen did not span the brain. This would result in animals not being stunned adequately and leading to pigs regaining consciousness during bleeding or before throat-slitting. Some pigs may be re-stunned due to the initial stunning failure and to suppress the spontaneous kicking to aid the shackling of the pigs. This also reduces the interval of stunning-to-sticking and helps prevent inadequate sticking because it is more difficult to stick a kicking or convulsing animal.

One study found variations in the methods and effectiveness of sticking. Sometimes the first attempt at sticking the stunned pigs on the shackle line did not always result in a rapid and profuse loss of blood, with a second sticking attempt required for 2.3% of pigs. Some pigs showed signs of recovery during the bleed out (9). The results of another study showed that following head-only electrical stunning, a relatively long sticking wound by a thoracic cut (chest sticking) should result in humane slaughter and provide better welfare in slaughter pigs. Other factors which should be taken into account regarding the slaughter of pigs included operator error as a result of high throughput, tiredness, insufficient instructions, animal position and inadequate knives (10).

Some pigs are stunned using carbon dioxide gas. This is less common in the UK but widely used in other countries such as Denmark. Approximately 1/3 of pigs in the UK are killed by this method (11). Pigs are passed through a well containing carbon dioxide (70-90%) and air. The pigs are rendered unconscious due to the acidification of the cerebrospinal fluid upon inhalation of the carbon dioxide. This method eliminates the human element required in electric stunning but has been strongly criticised by scientists as inhumane, with pigs suffering from breathlessness and hyperventilation (11).

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