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08-05-2012 | Veterinary medicine | Article

Call for action over slaughter without stunning

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MedWire News: The practice of slaughtering animals for commercial meat supply without prior stunning must be curbed, or even banned, a leading UK veterinarian has said.

Bill Reilly, a consultant in veterinary public health (Glasgow, Scotland, UK) and past-president of the British Veterinary Association, says that slaughter without stunning causes significant pain and distress to the animals. "From an animal welfare perspective this cannot be acceptable," he writes in an opinion piece in Veterinary Record.

Under European legislation, animals may be slaughtered by having their throats cut without prestunning to enable Muslims and Jews to meet the dietary requirements of their faiths, but with the caveat that it must not cause "unnecessary suffering."

Although official data are not available, anecdotal reports suggest that the practice of nonstun slaughter has increased markedly over the past 3 decades.

While some of the increase may be attributed to the growing Muslim community, and subsequently the number of animals slaughtered as Halal, this is not a complete explanation, says Reilly.

"The Halal Food Authority estimated a 30% growth in 2006 alone and that the Halal share is now 25% of the entire UK meat market, yet the Muslim community represents only some 3% or 4% of the UK population," he writes.

"Informal discussion with the meat industry suggests that the proportion not stunned is increasing and may now be almost 50% of lambs. Obviously, this means that not all Halal meat is being used as 'food for Muslims.' "

Commercial imperatives may help to explain the disproportional rise in nonstun slaughter, says Reilly, who notes that abattoirs without stunning facilities may be cheaper to run and enjoy a marketing advantage.

However, according to Reilly, "the challenge for society is to enable religious slaughter without compromising animal welfare." He says there is no scientifically robust evidence to support the contention that nonstun slaughter has the welfare of the animal at its core.

On the contrary, the UK's Farm Animal Welfare Council says there is strong evidence to indicate that slaughter without stunning "would result in very significant pain and distress" and thus concludes that "slaughter without stunning is unacceptable."

The Dialrel Project, a European Union (EU)-funded scheme aimed at encouraging dialog on matters of religious slaughter, takes a similar stance. Its 2010 report considered more than 200 references and found "it can be stated with the utmost probability that animals feel pain during and after the throat cut without prior stunning… because substantial tissue damage is inflicted to areas well supplied with nociceptors and subsequent perception of pain is not exclusively related to the quality of the cut."

Reilly notes that a new EU Directive on the protection of animals during slaughter is due to be implemented in 2013, and that consultation will soon be underway. He concludes: "Now is the time for the veterinary profession to influence the direction the UK Government will take in determining what relaxation of the requirement to stun it will allow."

By Joanna Lyford