The Government restated its decision that non-stun slaughter would not be banned during a parliamentary debate triggered by a vet-led petition calling for an end to the practice.
European and domestic regulations, which apply to the welfare of all animals slaughtered, require all animals are stunned before slaughter.
However, there is a long-standing derogation to allow slaughter without stunning in accordance with religious rites for the production of halal or kosher meat.
The British Veterinary Association e-petition, which attracted more than 116,000 signatures and was backed by the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Slaughter Association and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, stated scientific evidence shows non-stun slaughter allows animals to perceive pain and compromises welfare.
While non-stun slaughter is permitted, the petition also called for clearer slaughter-method labelling to prevent non-stunned meat entering the mainstream food chain and post-cut stunning to improve welfare.
Meanwhile, a rival petition calling on the Government to protect the right to non-stun religious slaughter in the UK had collected more than 130,000 signatures since it was launched on February 13.
It argues scientific evidence shows suffering is minimised when religious slaughter is practiced properly and stunning in abattoirs frequently fails to effectively stun the animal, thereby causing suffering.
The three-hour debate was held in Westminister Hall on February 23 and was introduced by member for Kettering, Phillip Hollobone “The issue is a contentious one for many members and many of our constituents, but it generates much interest,” he said. “I contend an overwhelming number of people want non-stun slaughter in this country to be ended.”
Speaking at the debate, parliamentary under-secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs George Eustice reiterated while the Government would prefer to see all animals stunned before slaughter, it had no intention to ban the practice.
“The only thing I would say – this is where there is strong cross-party consensus – is we have to look at the scientific evidence we have, and the argument that says the cut itself is equivalent to a stun is not borne out by the scientific evidence,” he said. “It is therefore important we recognise the basis on which the exemption exists.
“It is not because we think somehow religious slaughter, be it halal or shechita, is a more humane way to slaughter animals than what mainstream abattoirs do today.
“It is because we respect the religious rights of those communities and we have accommodated them in the long-standing derogations we have in place.”
In addressing the issue of labelling, Mr Eustice said while it was clear a “stunned” or “unstunned” label could be implemented, it would not be easy and therefore the Government was awaiting the results of the delayed European Commission animal welfare labelling report.
Mr Eustice also revealed following a number of incidents the Food Standards Agency had begun a series of unannounced inspections of Great Britain’s slaughterhouses, and by the end of March, all approved slaughterhouses would have been subjected to an unannounced inspection.
Labour MP Shabana Mahmood said there had been a degree of hysteria surrounding the issue and religious minorities “rightly feel picked on and scrutinised, as if to say their way of life was cruel”.
- A full report on the debate will appear in the March 9 issue of Veterinary Times (VT45.10).