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Slaughterhouses

Region: Ontario Answer # 4044

What are slaughterhouses?

Slaughterhouses, also known as abattoirs, are premises where food animals are slaughtered for human consumption.

Are slaughterhouses licensed?

To operate legally, slaughterhouses must be licensed. Individuals slaughtering animals for their personal and/or household consumption are not required to be licensed if they are not operating a “slaughterhouse”, but they do need to comply with federal and provincial legislation related to animal cruelty.

If producing meat for consumption outside of the province where it is located, the slaughterhouse must be licensed federally. Slaughterhouses producing meat for consumption within a single province need to be licensed under provincial legislation. There may also be municipal by-laws that provide regulations on how slaughterhouses must be run.

Federal law

The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) is the primary federal legislation for the regulation of federally licensed slaughterhouses. Division 7 of the Regulations, Meat Products and Food Animals, sets out requirements for the humane handling and slaughter of food animals in federal slaughterhouses, including:

  • Developing and implementing a Preventive Control Plan to prevent / control animal welfare risks
  • Maintaining equipment and handling facilities to ensure safety and hygiene
  • CFIA inspection of the animal within 24 hours before slaughter
    • a veterinary inspector may also be required for inspection if the animal exhibits abnormal behaviour, physiology, or appearance during the examination
  • Handling of the animal in a way that does not cause avoidable suffering, injury, or death, taking into consideration its unique behavioural and physical characteristics. This includes:
    • providing animals with sufficient space, ventilation, water, and food
    • requiring that an animal must be rendered unconscious in a way that prevents it from regaining consciousness before slaughter

Are there any exemptions to the Regulations?

The SFCR provides an exemption for the unconscious slaughter requirement if a license holder is ritually slaughtering food in compliance with Judaic or Islamic law. However, there are still requirements that must be complied with, such as:

  • Restraining the animal;
  • Specifying how the cut to bleed out must be administered; and
  • Ensuring rapid bleeding out to ensure the animal does not regain consciousness.

License holders also must comply with the Safe Food for Canadians Act regarding inspection, safety, labelling, and advertising requirements, and the Health of Animals Act regarding the control, prevention, and detection of diseases and toxic substances that may affect animals or be transmitted by animals to humans. The Health of Animals Regulations also set out requirements for humane treatment of animals during transportation to a slaughter facility.

Canada Food Inspection Association (CFIA)

The Canada Food Inspection Association (CFIA) is responsible for overseeing the inspection requirements and activities of the federal plants. CFIA inspectors and veterinarians are present during all slaughter operations at federally licensed establishments to inspect and verify compliance with the license’s requirements.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

In the event of a failure to comply with the requirements set out for slaughterhouses in any of the federal legislation listed above, CFIA investigators have the power to do any of the following:

  • Issue notices of violation for non-compliance with the requirements, which may be accompanied by a warning or monetary penalty
  • Suspend or cancel the federally issued licenses
  • Recommend to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada that violators be prosecuted

CFIA inspectors are given flexibility to select appropriate responses to non-compliance in relation to the potential or actual harm, history of the regulated party, and the intent associated with their actions.

Provincial laws

Many provinces also have requirements regarding the licensing and regulation of the operation of slaughterhouses.

In Ontario, the Food Safety and Quality Act and the corresponding Meat Regulation are the primary pieces of legislation through which Ontario licensed slaughterhouses are regulated to ensure the safe and humane handling of meat products for human consumption.

Meat products from animals that are not slaughtered in a licensed slaughterhouse can only be consumed by the producer and their immediate family. However, the Regulation provides for emergency slaughter of food animals outside a slaughter plant in certain circumstances determined and approved by a regional veterinarian.

The Regulation sets out requirements to ensure that animals are:

  • fit for slaughter,
  • treated humanely, and
  • processed under hygienic conditions.

Like federal law, provincially licensed slaughterhouses are subject to inspections including the pre- and post-inspection of slaughtered animals. The Regulation requires that no food animal be slaughtered in a way that subjects the animal to avoidable pain or distress and sets out requirements for how slaughtering is to be carried out including rendering it unconscious, keeping it restrained, and making sure it is done as quickly as possible.

Ontario law also provides a religious observance exception, and sets out requirements including restraining the animal, ensuring slaughter be carried out by someone with the skills necessary for humane slaughter, as well as requirements for how the slaughter is to be carried out.

Penalties for offences under the Food Safety and Quality Act

It is an offence to contravene the provisions in the Food Safety and Quality Act or the Meat Regulations. An individual convicted of an offence after failing to comply with the regulations the first time is liable to

  • a fine of up to $25,000 for each day the offence occurs or continues for first conviction, or up to $50,000 for each day the offence occurs or continues for subsequent convictions, and/or imprisonment for up to 2 years.

Corporations are liable for up to $100,000 per day that an offence occurs for a first conviction, and up to $200,000 for each subsequent conviction.

What is “stunning”?

Stunning, the process by which a food animal is rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, is a required practice in Canada, found in federal and provincial legislation to ensure that slaughter is humane.

Although the term “stunning” is not used in the federal Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, the Regulations state the approved methods by which an animal is to be stunned and rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, ensuring they will remain unconscious throughout the process. Visit canada.ca for more information on the federal law.

Municipal By-Laws

While most slaughterhouse activities are regulated under the federal or provincial legislative schemes, including oversight and inspection, municipal zoning laws, animal bylaws, and nuisance bylaws can play a role in dictating permissible slaughter activities.

For example, in Toronto, the Animal By-Law specifies that prohibited animals such as cows, horses, sheep, and pigs are not allowed within city limits, except on the premises of licensed slaughterhouses. Further, while Toronto allows for the keeping of hens in certain areas pursuant to their UrbanHensTO pilot program, there is a prohibition against keeping hens for the purpose of human consumption. Therefore, despite the slaughterhouse scheme both provincially and federally allowing slaughter for personal consumption, in the case of hens in Toronto, the municipal bylaws prohibit it.

Chatham-Kent’s zoning by-laws list slaughterhouses as a prohibited activity, providing it as an exception in Schedule B of the by-laws within a specific agricultural area. Further, the by-law allows for the continuation of existing uses, which were once lawful, but have since become non-compliant due to a change in zoning.

The City of Cornwall’s Zoning By-Law on the other hand, provides more opportunities for the operation of slaughterhouses designating it as an agriculture-related activity and permitting its operations in any zones that agriculture-related activities can operate.

Penalties for non-compliance

Most penalties for contravening provincial municipal by-laws range from fines to seizure and impoundment of prohibited animals to orders requiring the activity be stopped.

More info

For more information on provincial and federal laws regarding animal care and ownership, view other sections of Animal Law, or contact your provincial or municipal government.

For more information on slaughterhouses, refer to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for federal regulations.  Refer to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – OMAFRA for more information on an individuals’ responsibilities under the Ontario Food Safety and Quality Act and Meat Regulation.


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