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Curb animal slaughter without prior stunning, top vet urges UK government

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Curb animal slaughter without prior stunning, top vet urges UK government

‘Non-stun’ deaths on the rise; veterinary profession should unite in protest

It’s time for the veterinary profession to use its collective muscle to challenge the government on its failure to curb the slaughter of animals without prior stunning in UK abattoirs, insists one of Britain’s top vets, in an editorial published today in the journal Vet Record.

“If ever there was an issue on which the veterinary profession could unite, this is surely it,” argues Alexander Trees, editor in chief of Vet Record and the only vet in the House of Lords. “Let our voice be heard loud and clear.”

His rallying cry comes in the wake of recent figures from the Food Standards Agency, the UK’s regulatory body on food safety and hygiene, suggesting that the number of sheep and poultry that have not been stunned before slaughter is on the rise.

This is particularly true of sheep, where numbers have doubled between 2011 and 2017 to more than 3 million every year–a rise for which there is no obvious reason.

And while the number of ‘non-stunned’ cattle has fallen during the same period, “there is no doubt that much of the meat from non-stunned animals is entering the standard food chain,” he writes.

Most vets and scientists regard the practice as inhumane, and the British Veterinary Association has long campaigned to end non-stun slaughter.

The government has increasingly prioritised animal welfare with several progressive measures, he says. These include compulsory CCTV in abattoirs to ensure that animals that have not been pre-stunned are held for a prescribed period after their throat has been cut; stiffer penalties for animal welfare breaches; and the recognition that animals feel pain.

Yet the government has shied away from the issue of non-stun slaughter because of its religious dimension, says Lord Trees.

While some religious leaders insist on non-stun slaughter, many also now accept that reversible stunning is permissible. And most halal meat sold in the UK now comes from animals stunned before slaughter, he says: sheep 63%; cattle 75%.

But religious leaders could do more to curb a practice that was rooted in public health measures many hundreds of years ago, which are now “archaic and insupportable,” declares Lord Trees.

“The religious leaders have the power to end the practice of non-stun slaughter and the onus to do so should be firmly put at their door,” he suggests.

Accurate figures on the actual quantities of meat required by particular religious communities, to limit the numbers of non-stunned animals, and clear labelling, to show whether meat is from stunned or non-stunned slaughter, would be good starting points, he argues.

“At a time when the government and the current Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has put animal welfare firmly as a priority……….it is timely to challenge the government about non-stun slaughter: the elephant in the room,” he says.


Editorial: Non-stun slaughter: the elephant in the room

Journal: Vet Record

Disclaimer: The views expressed in Vet Record are those of the authors and may not necessarily reflect British Veterinary Association policy