Tag Archives: Non-stun slaughter

Non-stun slaughter – Why not a precautionary tale?

The number of sheep and goats slaughtered without stunning has doubled in the last six years, with an estimated 3.3 million (27%) not stunned in 2017. A Food Standards Agency survey for England and Wales estimates that 184 million poultry and 21 thousand cattle were also slaughtered without an effective stun in 2017 (see VPRF Non-stun slaughter Fact File)

EU and UK law require all livestock at abattoirs to be stunned and therefore rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. The EU uses a ‘Precautionary Principle’ for policy areas where scientific evidence may be uncertain, but there is reasonable concern for harm to environmental, human or animal health. Despite a body of scientific evidence of harm, the use of non-stun slaughter by some religious groups is allowed in the UK but non-stun slaughter is banned in several countries around the world.

The UK legislation (Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing, WATOK) requires that for non-stun slaughter, each animal has a rapid, uninterrupted cut to the neck by hand-held knife to sever both carotid arteries and jugular veins. The animal must be restrained suitably and be left still during exsanguination for a minimum defined time post-cut. The majority of red meat (63% sheep, 75% cattle) slaughtered for halal is reversibly stunned but the remainder is not. This meat, along with 70% of meat from non-stunned kosher carcasses, enters the market unlabelled.

chicken behind fence NSS slaughter fact file

Several studies have measured time to loss of consciousness (and therefore sensibility to pain and distress) through a variety of methods including loss of posture. Following non-stun slaughter and across several studies, poultry reportedly took 12-15 seconds following throat cut before signs of unconsciousness were apparent. In sheep this was between 2-14 seconds and in cattle between 11seconds in some cases over 4minutes (cattle time to collapse may be longer due to a unique alternative blood supply to the brain).

Recently there has been much public support to recognise that animals are sentient, and therefore able to suffer pain and distress. ‘We are a nation of animal lovers’ the papers declare and Ministers repeatedly emphasise our proud record of high animal welfare. With programmes such as Blue Planet capturing the imagination of the world (apparently the most viewed TV programme of 2017), and conversations around the sustainability and morality of our diets being brought into the mainstream by films such as Cowspiracy, Okja and Carnage; why is the UK struggling to agree when it comes to stunning animals before slaughter?

Lord Trees – the only Veterinarian in parliament – will ask in the House of Lords ‘what is to be done to minimise the number of animals slaughtered without stunning?’ on Wednesday 7th February 15h00

Advertisements

Debate on welfare of animals at slaughter

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.

Background

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 debate

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.

 

 

 

BVA AWF Discussion Forum 2015

The Veterinary Policy Research Foundation (VPRF) took part in the popular and enjoyable BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum once again this year.

dsc_8046
Lord Trees and Chris Lawrence at the BVA AWF reception

The topics covered, including antimicrobial resistance, welfare at slaughter, population control and indiscriminate breeding, and the use of advanced veterinary practice. We took particular interest in Professor Steve Wotton’s talk on the latest research on the stunning of animals before slaughter and the nuances of appropriately stunning poultry to both effectively stun the birds regardless of their size and yet not induce cardiac arrest so that the stun is demonstrably irreversible – a necessity for Halal consumers.

There was a great deal of discussion and debate around the enforcement, or lack of, animal welfare law with particular reference to import/export and indiscriminate breeding. The general impression given by the veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in attendance was one of frustration that these oft discussed issues are still not being effectively addressed and impotence that when they are faced with a potential animal welfare issue there is no clear path to follow.

dsc_8185
Parliamentary Veterinary Intern and guests at the 2015 BVA AWF Reception.

The 2015 Discussion Forum concluded with a reception on the House of Commons terrace hosted by Neil Parish MP.

Westminster Hall debates

Tuesday 4th November saw two interesting debates in Westminster Hall. In the morning Neil Parish MP moved a debate on Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods), and in the afternoon Chris Williamson MP moved a debate on Badger Culls (Assessment). I will focus on the animal slaughter side of things in this post.

Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods)

The animal slaughter debate was called following the publication of the APPG for Beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the welfare of animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. This report identified several areas in need of further research. During the course of the debate a number of matters were discussed, including the role of exporters subject to various conditions on slaughter, the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses, the effect of animal stress on meat quality, the labelling of meat (stunned vs non-stunned) and a call to accurately record all mis-stuns and mis-cuts. A lot of well-trodden ground was once again re-covered during this debate and ultimately it boils down to the question: Does the right to freedom of religious expression outweigh animal welfare considerations?

Government response

During his response, George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“Our position is that we would prefer that all animals are stunned before slaughter, but we recognise and respect the needs of religious communities, so we have always maintained this limited exemption, which is to be used only for meat produced for Jewish and Muslim communities. Last year, the Prime Minister made it very clear in a speech that the Government have no intention of abolishing religious slaughter in this country. However, it is equally important to note that none of the derogations that we have in place, which are set out through the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, exempt anyone from the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires all abattoirs to avoid causing an animal avoidable pain.”

“It is not that we believe that there is no difference between the two types of slaughter, nor that we believe shechita is a more welfare-friendly method of slaughter, but because we respect the rights of religious communities. That has been the long-standing position of every UK Government, going back some 100 years.”

HOC Hansard, 4th Nov 2014, Column 168WH.

Labelling

The Minister’s round up also included (another) new date for the publication of the European Commission report on labelling – now expected to conclude in December 2014.

Mis-stunning and mis-cutting

He briefly covered the issue of mis-stunning and -cutting. Historically, the Food Standards Agency only reported incidents observed by official veterinarians in the slaughterhouse. Following review, the FSA intends to monitor and record all incidents. He reiterated the point that a mis-stunning event does not always mean the welfare outcome for a particular animal will be dire as a second, back-up stun can be applied within seconds.

CCTV in slaughterhouses

Last, but not least, the subject of CCTV in slaughterhouses is an issue. The Minister clarified that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is reviewing it as an option. The issue remains as to exactly who would monitor the CCTV footage were it made compulsory in slaughterhouses. Several supermarkets already demand that CCTV is taken in their slaughterhouses as a matter of course – perhaps the success/failure of this intervention could be investigated.

Badger Culls (Assessment)

 

Non-stun slaughter Fact File

Declaration of interest: This authors of this document declare they would wish to see all animals stunned before slaughter.

Statement of intention: This document is intended for the public, politicians and professionals and aims to present an unbiased, factual and up-to-date account of the current information available on non-stun slaughter.

Please download a copy of the latest VPRF Animal Welfare and Non-Stun Slaughter Factfile using the link below:

Non stun slaughter fact file updated October 2016

Record of Edits
July 2014 – Initial document published
November 2015 – Updated to include new legislation (WATOK (England) 2015) and new estimates for numbers of animals slaughtered using stun and non-stun methods.
June 2016 – Further updates to include reference to result of EU referendum.
October 2016 – Update to include results of a survey of UK Islamic scholars on perception and acceptability of stunning