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Non-stun slaughter question in the House of Lords

Abstract

With new figures from the Food Standards Agency showing that the number of sheep and goats undergoing non-stun slaughter has doubled in the past five years, parliamentary intern Gabrielle Laing reveals that the issue is to be debated in the House of Lords next week.

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The rise of animals being slaughtered without having been pre-stunned led Lord Trees to table a question on this emotive topic, which will be debated on February 7.

Non-stun slaughter methods are used by some Muslim producers for halal meat and by the Jewish community to produce kosher meat.

If we focus on sheep, the last survey of halal slaughter (in 2013) found that the majority (63 per cent) were given a ‘reversible’ stun before slaughter. However, any animal undergoing Shechita slaughter to produce kosher meat will not have been stunned and it is estimated that around 70 per cent of meat from these animals enters the mainstream supply chain, unlabelled as such.

Non-stunned animals supply the market for kosher and halal meat, but with only 0.5 per cent of the UK population identifying as Jewish and 5 per cent as Muslim, does supply outstrip the demand?

At the moment, several assurance schemes, including Red Tractor, Soil Association and RSPCA Assured do not accept any meat from non-stunned animals.

There are some difficulties around measuring levels of pain and consciousness in animals at slaughter, which further complicates the debate. The Veterinary Policy Research Foundation has produced an impartial fact file presenting studies on both sides of the argument.

Having reviewed the evidence, I feel there’s a much stronger argument to support the use of stunning to render animals insensible (and free from pain or distress); stunning does not adversely affect the final meat product, and the welfare risks of mis-stunning do not outweigh the benefits of stunning.

Although there are clearly other areas in our production systems where welfare could be improved and that impact similarly large numbers of animals, this should not be an argument to avoid addressing this difficult issue. For now at least, my front line is arguing for legislative change and I appreciate that it is much easier to act as the opposition than it is to be the one providing solutions.

There is a great deal of public and industry support for maintaining the UK’s high animal welfare standards, including within Jewish and Muslim communities. I hope that we can cooperate with compassion and understanding to find a solution that meets our shared goals of protecting and upholding animal welfare.

Stay up-to-date with veterinary-related policy through the VPRF Fact Files at vprf.wordpress.com and on Twitter @Vet_Policy

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