BVA questions Defra on poultry welfare in new slaughter regulations

04 November 2015

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has raised an urgent question with Defra over new slaughter regulations for England that are due to come into force on Thursday 5 November. 

Although BVA has broadly welcomed the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) Regulations, which contain new provisions to improve welfare at slaughter such as the requirement for large slaughterhouses to have an Animal Welfare Officer and the introduction of Certificates of Competence, it is concerned by Defra’s decision not to include stunning parameters in the legislation for poultry killed ‘in accordance with religious rites’.

European legislation on welfare at slaughter includes rules on stunning following work by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) to evaluate parameters for electrical waterbath stunning of poultry. There is a high risk that if the parameters in electrical waterbath stunning for poultry killed ‘in accordance with religious rites’ are not correctly set and implemented, a percentage of those birds may be immobilised rather than stunned and therefore still conscious at the time of slaughter, causing avoidable animal suffering. 

BVA has previously called for European legislation to be implemented in full through WATOK, and is concerned that removing the requirement for parameters in electrical waterbath stunning removes the legal guarantee for effective stunning before slaughter. BVA has written to Defra to seek urgent clarification on how the new legislation will ensure all poultry are effectively stunned before slaughter, other than those that fall under the derogation for non-stun slaughter.

BVA President Sean Wensley said:

“In the last year we have seen headlines about the inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter and, while these new WATOK regulations are strong in many areas, we are concerned that the omission of specific parameters for electrical waterbath stunning leaves some poultry vulnerable to ineffective stunning.

“We have written to Defra outlining our concerns about this gap that undermines the science the regulations are built upon. It is difficult to see how effective stunning can be assured for all poultry if parameters are not set when poultry are killed in accordance with religious rites. Slaughtermen, Official Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Officers in abattoirs are not able to tell the difference between birds that have been effectively stunned and those that are just electro-immobilised, thus compromising the animal welfare standards that these regulations are being put in place to protect.

“Ultimately we need to ensure that all stunning methods are fully effective and we support further research into techniques that will deliver this for every animal without compromise.”

BVA previously expressed its concerns to Defra when WATOK Regulations and the implementation of EU regulation 1099/2009 in England were delayed and then revoked the day before they came into effect in April 2014.

BVA Media Office