Slaughter without stunning - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

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?

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.

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