Slaughter without stunning

With a dramatic increase in animals being slaughtered while conscious over the past four years, should a meat labelling programme be introduced?

by Ellen Hardy
16 November 2017, at 9:14am

Currently, UK meat production, particularly from sheep and goats, is a buoyant market sector being driven by the increasing demand for meat slaughtered according to religious rites – termed shechita in the Jewish faith and halal in the Muslim.

Humane slaughter is widely recognised as a part of good animal welfare practice, with the essential part of the procedure being the use of stunning, to ensure that it is sensation- and pain-free. However, according to survey gures released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), almost one quarter (24.4%) of sheep and goats slaughtered between April and June this year had their throats cut while conscious – an increase from 15% in 2013. The number of chickens slaughtered without pre-stunning has risen from 3% in 2013 to 18.5% in 2017.

The growth in the British Muslim population (forecast to double by 2030), together with the increasing export of halal meat (particularly lamb) to the EU with some 15.4 million Muslims, already accounts for – according to the National Farmers Union (NFU) – about 40% of British lamb production. 

The religious ritual

Religious slaughter, according to Islamic rules, is termed dhabihah, but usually called halal. The ritual requires the animal to be both alive and healthy before the approved Muslim slaughterer commences. He must say continually “Bismillah wallahu Akbar” at the time of killing, with a sharp blade of not less than 12cm. The one stroke must sever the neck of the animal below the glottis and cut the trachea, oesophagus and both carotid arteries and jugular veins without lifting the blade, but a sawing action is allowed.

While some Islamic scholars agree that stunning is acceptable for halal slaughter, others argue against it, claiming that it affects both exsanguination and the quality of the meat.

Lord Trees, our veterinary spokesman in the Upper House, has said: “We provide non-stunned meat and it is something many of us regret, but not something we can alter because the UK and many European countries defend religious minority rights to have non-stunned meat.”

However, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden do not allow non-stun slaughter and since 2012 Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Germany and Luxembourg have not used the practice. Non-stun slaughter is also banned in New Zealand, one of the world’s largest producers of sheep meat.

The BVA has campaigned against non-stun slaughter for some time as an essential part of animal welfare in the slaughterhouse. Public opinion is re ected in requiring stunning before slaughter by the NFU’s Red Tractor Food Assurance Scheme, the RSPCA’s Freedom Food and the Soil Association’s Organic Food Schemes.

The BVA also strongly supports a meat labelling programme so that customers can see the slaughter method used for their purchase. To date, calls have been rejected for legislation to enforce both compulsory stunning before animal slaughter and informative labelling. A labelling scheme has been proposed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and is under discussion.

Meanwhile, the number of conscious animals slaughtered under a religious rite involving the cutting of their throat continues to rise.