To stun or not to stun

Before I start I would like to make two clear points. First of all I am taking it as read that this audience believes that to slaughter without stunning is actually harmful to animal welfare. And secondly I want to differentiate between religious slaughter and non stun slaughter these are not the same thing and I want to separate them out very clearly right at the start

If we go in terms of what happens next we have to have a starting point and my starting point is the presentation that was made here two years ago. Why shouldn’t the consumer know and chose and at that point we presented very clearly a drive to try and influence the outcome of European Directive 1099 2009 which was up for implementation in the UK and should have been implemented in January of this year.  We presented the BVA position which is very clear that all animals should be stunned before slaughter and if that wasn’t possible then the meat should be labelled to enable informed choice.

The later part, the labelling we sort of lost very quickly in the political bartering in Europe. That fell out as an option at that particular time and so we were really left with the drive to have all animals slaughtered without stunning.

However DEFRA made it clear that they would not prohibit religious, that is non stun slaughter.

And so we were left with how do we take forward this agenda that Karl has said to have been hanging around for a long, long time and my last slide at that presentation was simply lobby, lobby, lobby. Unless we as a BVA organisation and individuals actively lobbied for a change in the legislation we were not going to progress.

Moving on the next chapter that involved me was I was invited to write a view point article in the Vet Record in May of last year. And the BMJ in its wisdom choose to feature this in its new release and so it go pretty mega press coverage at the time which is actually great because that’s what we wanted. We wanted the issue out in the open and discussed clearly. The reaction was really quite overwhelming particularly from the Muslim and Jewish communities who saw this as an attack on religious freedom and failed to appreciate the difference between religious slaughter and non stun slaughter and Shaun again dabbled in this, more than dabbled got actively involved in a very lively TV debate.  TB debate is something totally different.

But no doubt he would take part in that one as well.

What interested in me was the reaction from the veterinary profession and it was very clear that many vets really had put this to one side and it wasn’t actively active in their thinking and they began to take an interest and they began to lobby. And on top of that a very considerable response from the farming community many of whom were not aware that their animals were going into an abattoir and being slaughtered without stunning.

So if we go back to the quality assurance debate I think there is a good case for having included in these elements of what happens after the farm including the transport and slaughter and actually that might be one way to tackle the contentious labelling issues.

Coincidently or perhaps because of the view point article the food standard agency did actually release the latest tranche of data on non stun slaughter. And they compared what had been slaughtered in one week in September in 2011 and we were able to look at a similar period in 2003 and if we look at Kosher stunning alone or Kosher slaughter it is clear that there is a significant drive upwards with increase in cattle slaughter up by nearly 80% in that eight year period and of course for Kosher slaughter none of that is stunned.

For Halal slaughter there is a big difference between the overall Halal kill at 154,000 sheep for example and that proportion is not stunned for 28 – 29,000. But again the figures are showing not just the size of the problem but the way that issues are changing with sheep and goat kill increasing by 70% in that eight year period and poultry kill by 300%.

If we extrapolate that for a full year it’s clear that about 4% of the national kill for cattle is Halal, 50% of the sheep is Halal and 30% of the poultry but these are not the same as the non stunned component.

And if we look at the non stunned component it relates to 3% for cattle, 10% for sheep and 4% for poultry.

Now I personally as a FSA former board member was disappointed that the FSA in its press release chose to relate this as a relative low number of animals and quoting the 3, 10 and 4% forgetting that these figures related to 1.5 million sheep or 32 million poultry. So we have got to quantify the numbers not just look at the percentages

The next part of the chain was I was asked to do a webinar for BVA and we had about 300 or thereabouts vets listening in to that and again this focussed the mind of the veterinary profession of how do we take this issue forward. And I suggested we might use the same sort of principals that we do for animals and research – replace, refine and reduce. And simply we could replace non stunning with stunning by making it mandatory or by improving the dialogue with religious communities to accept stunning. We could refine the non stun process by looking at post cut stunning where the cut is actually made and improving veterinary supervision at the time of slaughter. And we could reduce non stunning by restricting the use of that meat to the religious communities that were demanding it and by labelling all meat from non stunned animals so consumers could make their own choice.

And these are all areas that the BVA have been actively working on in the last 12 – 24 months. This as an issue remains high on the BVA agenda. It is a constant topic for our ethics and welfare group and comes to council. And clearly the position of the BVA has not changed. All animals should be stunned before slaughter.

And if we look specifically at some of the BVA actions we did respond to the consultation from the UK governments to implement Directive 1091. There has been subsequent correspondence with all UK administrations relating the concern of the profession about non stun slaughter. There has been active liaison with stakeholders including NFU, RSPCA to try and get a common starting point to go forward with a united front. There is ongoing lobbying with MPS and that’s lead to meeting with Ministers most recently in March of this year. And we are currently seeking international support from sister veterinary organisations to build a united approach to the topic.

Directive 1099 will actually not be implemented until autumn of this year when we are expecting welfare of animals at the time of killing regs to be introduced. It is very clear though that DEFRA will not include in that that animals must be stunned before slaughter. But Ministers have indicated that after the implementation of the regulations they might consider issues such as post cut stun or some of the measures that we have discussed that would actually improve animal welfare.

So we are actually back to where we were two years ago when I stood here and said we must continue to process this to take the issue forward, we must lobby, lobby, lobby and actually I have just used the same again. We still need to lobby, lobby, lobby. Unfortunately unlike Shaun I can’t report that we’ve had considerable success with this issue.

Thank you.


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