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The RSPCA has reiterated its long-running calls for the Australian pig industry to progress alternative methods to carbon dioxide (CO2) stunning.

The call comes after footage was aired last night on ABC 7.30 of CO2 stunning, which, along with electrical stunning, is common practice across Australian abattoirs and the way most pigs (around 85% of those farmed in Australia) are stunned before slaughter.

“The RSPCA has long advocated for CO2 to be phased out and replaced with a humane alternative,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Science Officer Suzie Fowler.

“In contrast to electrical stunning, CO2 stunning allows pigs to be stunned in groups, with minimal restraint and less handling, and therefore less stress before stunning,” she said.

“But we also know there are serious welfare issues at the point of stun, including the fact that inhaling CO2 is aversive and painful.

“There is a critical need for alternatives to CO2 to be investigated and commercialised, including non-aversive gas mixtures (such as argon, nitrogen or nitrous oxide), a combination of different gases, or genetic selection for pigs who do not find CO2 to be aversive.

“In the meantime, implementing important measures such as CCTV monitoring in abattoirs,  better training in animal handling, and reducing pig stress immediately prior to stunning can help mitigate the risks.

“While ever animal welfare issues exist, we cannot ignore these and we must always be seeking better alternatives,” said Dr Fowler.

Humane slaughter was the subject of the 2018 RSPCA Animal Welfare Seminar, where the welfare impacts and risks of various stunning methods (including gas) were discussed in detail by leading experts. You can download the full proceedings here.

The RSPCA will also continue to advocate for better animal welfare through regulatory and legislative processes, including the current review of Australian Standards & Guidelines for the welfare of livestock at slaughtering establishments.

More information about CO2 is available on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.

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