Tag Archives: WATOK

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

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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.