The RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association have joined forces to call on the UK Government to repeal a legal exemption that permits animals to be slaughtered without pre-stunning, causing unnecessary pain and suffering.
The latest figures* from 2017/18 reveal that over 120 million animals were slaughtered without being stunned first – more than three animals slaughtered every second on average. In an open letter to Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the BVA and the RSPCA urge the UK Government to change legislation in England which currently allows non-stun slaughter for religious purposes, and provide further public transparency on this issue by releasing the comprehensive 2018 slaughter survey results, which were originally due for release Autumn 2018.
Until such legislation is in place the RSPCA and BVA are calling for the following:
- Meat to be labelled with the method of slaughter, e.g. stunned or non-stunned, so consumers are fully informed about the meat that they are buying.
- Non-stun slaughter to only be permitted at levels that meet local religious community demand for this type of meat in the interests of limiting animal pain and suffering.
- A ban on export of meat from non-stunned animals or live animals destined for non-stun slaughter.
- An immediate post-cut stun for cattle, sheep, goats and deer to reduce the period of pain and distress.
The letter follows a recent, high profile decision to ban the slaughter of animals without prior stunning in the Flanders region of Belgium which came into force at the start of the year. Belgium joins several other European countries, including Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark in making this decision, demonstrating that a full ban on non-stun slaughter is possible within EU law.
RSPCA chief executive, Chris Sherwood said: “We’re opposed to non-stun slaughter and we’re calling for an end to the practice as it seriously compromises animal welfare. “Our concern does not relate to the expression of religious belief but the welfare of animals.
“Until there is a change in the law to end non-stun slaughter, there are several measures the UK Government could introduce to reduce the suffering involved in this practice. For example, by ensuring trade deals with other countries do not include non-stun meat or live animals for non-stun slaughter, clear labelling should be adopted to enable consumers to make an informed choice about the meat they buy and how it was slaughtered.”
BVA President Simon Doherty said: “The UK Government has repeatedly stated it would prefer to see all animals stunned before slaughter but has taken no action to address this critical welfare issue that affects millions of animals every year. It is doubly disappointing that data that would have provided a valuable benchmark for levels of non-stun slaughter in the UK has yet to see the light of day despite assurances throughout last year that it would soon be made public.
“There is a huge groundswell of support for a ban on non-stun slaughter, and recent developments in Belgium show that decisive change is possible where public support is matched by political will. Michael Gove has made clear that he wants to maintain and build on the UK’s reputation as global leader on animal welfare; banning non-stun slaughter is a surefire way of showing he will deliver on this commitment.
“If slaughter without stunning continues to be permitted in the UK, then meat and fish from this source must be clearly labelled, to help customers make informed choices about the food that they buy and eat.” The BVA and RSPCA have called on Defra to be transparent on the issue of non-stun slaughter and release the latest comprehensive Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey results, which provide details on the number of animals in England and Wales slaughtered with non-stun methods, and critically includes data on the level of exports. Although Mr Gove himself signalled a commitment to publish the data by Autumn 2018, it has yet to appear.
*The most up-to-date FSA figures show that between October 2017 to September 2018, over 120 million animals were slaughtered without pre-stunning, including:
- 118 million meat poultry (11% of the total number of poultry slaughtered)
- 3 million sheep and goats (25% of the total number of sheep and goats slaughtered)
- 24 thousand cattle (1% of the total number of cattle slaughtered)
All animals slaughtered under the Shechita (for Kosher) are non-stunned, however, between two thirds and three quarters of meat labelled Halal is from animals that have been pre-stunned**.