ABATTOIR practice became an unscheduled issue at the Eblex conference.
Lucille Nicholson, who farms at Chester-le-Street, said an Eblex DVD on catering for the Muslim market had revealed to her that the UK definition of adequate pre-slaughter stunning was wide enough to include a very light stun, acceptable to some halal certification bodies, which might leave the animal paralysed but still conscious, according to her research.
Mrs Nicholson was concerned that mainstream abattoirs were being left free to deliver inadequate shocks in order to keep their options open in some export markets and/or to save money by speeding up the process.
She said most farmers and consumers would want an absolute guarantee that the animal was insensible to pain before ‘sticking’ – the bloodletting that causes death.
Mrs Nicholson said the UK parameters would be unacceptable in New Zealand and ignored a lot of European veterinary opinion.
The panel of speakers spent much of the lunch break trying to reassure Mrs Nicholson, without success.
Peter Morris, former chief executive of the National Sheep Association, now working for meat giant Vion, said the slaughter industry was “crawled over night and day” by inspectors. And Phil Hadley, a senior Eblex manager, said farm assurance stamps ensured legal standards were met.
Coincidentally, Mrs Nicholson’s questions followed a claim by Bill Reilly, a former president of the British Veterinary Association, that halal abattoirs were killing more animals than necessary without any stunning at all, because there were economic incentives to do so.
Prof Reilly told the Yorkshire Post he had no knowledge of the possible grey area Mrs Nicholson had identified.
But he said: “It is important the industry recognises that there are these concerns and now is the time to press them. Defra needs to consult on a new European directive.”