Maintaining BVA’s focus on animal welfare at slaughter

Posted on May 04, 2016 by Sean Wensley

Meat hanging in abattoirReaders of the Mirror and Times may have read disturbing accounts over the Bank Holiday weekend about the mistreatment of animals in a Norfolk abattoir. The story, accompanied by undercover video footage on the Mirror website, described unacceptable treatment of animals and breaches of legislation intended to protect their welfare. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), following a similar exposé at the same abattoir in 2014, has now closed the abattoir pending an investigation

The abattoir supplied 100% non-stun halal meat and meat products, though I was careful in providing BVA comment to the Times not to conflate the mistreatment of animals shown in the Mirror footage with the welfare harms caused by non-stun slaughter.

The breaches of legislation witnessed on the video would be illegal in any UK abattoir. However, it is the case that incompetent and uncaring handling, restraint and hoisting with chains post-neck cut would be distressing for a conscious animal, unlike one that had been rendered unconscious following effective stunning.

BVA concerns about welfare at slaughter

Animal welfare at slaughter is a priority issue for BVA and many will be aware that we have been prominent in raising public awareness of the animal welfare harms caused by slaughter without pre-stunning in particular.

It is a legal requirement for all animals in Europe to be stunned before their neck is cut, but an exemption exists to provide meat for certain religious communities. While BVA recognises the political and cultural sensitivities surrounding this issue, our concern has always been strictly focused on animal welfare. Without pre-stunning, animals:

  1. feel the pain of the neck cut
  2. experience a delay to loss of consciousness (lasting up to 2 minutes in cattle)
  3. during the above, they experience the pain and distress of aspirating blood in to the respiratory tract 

On 30 March 2015 a government e-petition led by BVA closed at nearly 120,000 signatures, having prompted a Westminster Hall debate.

The Government position and BVA’s response

OV examines a cowRegrettably, the 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto pledges to protect non-stun slaughter:

“We want people to integrate fully in to British society, but that does not mean they should have to give up the things they hold dear in their religion….we will protect methods of religious slaughter, such as shechita and halal.”

In response, BVA has developed an interim lobbying position based on 3 pragmatic asks:

  1. immediate post-cut stunning (as required in Austria, Estonia, Finland and Slovakia)
  2. matching supply to legitimate demand (as in Germany, where abattoirs have to prove the ‘religious needs’ and number of animals to be slaughtered to satisfy the needs of the religious community concerned before being granted a licence – BVA is concerned that in the UK 15% of sheep and goats are slaughtered without pre-stunning, despite Muslim and Jewish communities comprising 4-5% of the UK population)
  3. labelling meat as either stunned or non-stunned to allow consumer choice

Latest BVA lobbying on welfare at slaughter

At a meeting with Defra Minister George Eustice MP last week, I reiterated BVA’s calls for these 3 steps to refine current practice and reduce the numbers of animals affected, while the week before, at a meeting with the FSA, BVA welcomed FSA’s commitment to increasing openness and provision of consumer information. We will continue to monitor FSA data and, when appropriate, publically highlight trends in the volume of non-stun slaughter, while continuing to call for provision of meaningful consumer information.

A committed BVA campaign

BVA’s first recorded complaint about non-stun slaughter on animal welfare grounds was at the Association’s 1893 Congress in Manchester. Despite the government’s present reluctance to move, we will not give up on raising public awareness and advocating high standards of animal welfare in slaughterhouses.

Our leadership position meant that the Times came to BVA for informed comment on Bank Holiday Sunday. We were able to convey the profession’s condemnation of the practices shown in the footage, as well as highlighting our proactive call for mandatory CCTV in abattoirs and legislative change to permit more effective monitoring of abattoir CCTV footage by Official Veterinarians. The sentient animals that we farm for food deserve a good life and a humane death, and BVA will continue advocating the veterinary profession’s clear view on this until it is achieved.

Sean WensleyWritten by Sean Wensley      
BVA President from September 2015 to September 2016

Follow @SeanWensley on Twitter

Sean is Senior Veterinary Surgeon for Communication and Education at PDSA, based in Northern Ireland. He is also an Honorary Lecturer in animal welfare at the University of Nottingham.

Sean Wensley

Written by Sean Wensley

BVA President from September 2015 to September 2016

Sean is Senior Veterinary Surgeon for Communication and Education at PDSA, based in Northern Ireland. He is also an Honorary Lecturer in animal welfare at the University of Nottingham.