The recent introduction of the new Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing (England) 2015 regulations (WATOK) has been the focus of a debate last night in the House of Lords.
EU regulation 1099/2009 on protection of animals at time of killing came into effect in 2013. The purpose of the regulation is to enhance protection of animals at the time of slaughter by establishing standard operating procedures to reduce pain and suffering of animals, improve training of personnel through the introduction of certificates of competence and regulate the use of equipment (including the use of stunning equipment). Annex I of the regulations include specific requirements for the stunning prior to slaughter based on a scientific review performed by the European Food Safety Authority.
For many slaughter houses in the UK, compliance with the EU regulations requires an increase in the currents used for electrical stunning of poultry in a water-bath. The parameters were set in an attempt to ensure that stunning is effective following evidence that at low currents birds are likely to remain conscious despite appearing to be stunned. However, there have been objections from the Islamic community that the higher currents are more likely to kill birds rather than stun them and prevent meat from being classed as Halal. There have also been objections from meat producers that the higher currents are likely to cause damage to meat.
The Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing (WATOK) regulations implement the EU Regulations in the UK. WATOK regulations were due to come into effect in England in May 2014 but were withdrawn at the last minute due to concerns over the impact of the regulations on religious slaughter. The legal requirement for EU recommended stunning methods to be followed for stunning prior to religious slaughter was removed and the new WATOK regulations came into effect on 5th November 2015. This contrasts with Wales and Northern Ireland where WATOK regulations do specify that the EU recommended stunning parameters must followed when stunning prior to religious slaughter.
The introduction of the English WATOK regulations were met with concern from the BVA over English poultry failing to be effectively stunned under the new regulations. This was reported on in the Veterinary Record and the Times newspaper.
In response, Lord Hodgson raised a motion of regret in the House of Lords to highlight the issue and create an opportunity for debate on the welfare of animals at slaughter. Lord Trees spoke in this debate today and a transcript from the debate will soon be available here.
The broader picture
This debate is part of wider discussion over the use of stunning to safeguard the welfare of animals at slaughter. It remains legal in the UK to slaughter animals without prior stunning in order to allow for Halal and Shechita traditions to be maintained and we have recently updated a document that summarises the key facts concerning non-stun slaughter in the UK.
We regard stunning as an essential means by which to reduce pain and suffering of animals at slaughter and would support efforts to ensure that stunning is carried out in all cases and is performed using means that are proven to be effective in safeguarding animal welfare. Almost a billion animals are slaughtered for food each year in the UK and we have a moral obligation to ensure that this process affords each animal the highest possible standards of welfare.