A leading vet has spoken out against the “unacceptable” rise in the number of farm animals slaughtered by having their throats cut while fully conscious.
The practice is allowed under UK and EU law to satisfy the religious beliefs of Jews and Muslims.
However, there is evidence that far more animals are being killed this way than is necessary as it is being used as an excuse to cut costs, according to Professor Bill Reilly, a past-president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
Writing in the Veterinary Record, he calls for action to curb, if not halt, the slaughter of animals for meat without prior stunning.
He says abattoirs are killing far more animals without stunning them first than can be justified by religious demands alone .
Although legislation permits Schecita (Jewish) or Halal (Muslim) “non-stun” slaughter, it states that this must not cause “unnecessary suffering”.
But Prof Reilly insists the animals suffer a great deal.
As a postgraduate veterinary student in the 1970s he was “appalled” to witness Schecita slaughter for the first time.
“The distress, fear and pain were there for all to see (and hear) in the abattoir,” he wrote.
The former Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) had concluded that throat-cutting resulted in “very significant pain and distress”, said Prof Reilly.
A report from the EU-funded Dialrel Project, which promotes international dialogue on religious slaughter, came to a similar view based on the fact that the throat was rich in nerve endings.
Clandestine videos posted on YouTube “clearly demonstrate the pain and distress of obviously still sentient animals after non-stun slaughter”, Prof Reilly added.
He said an estimated two million animals, mostly poultry, were killed in the UK each year without stunning for orthodox Jews.
Halal meat now accounted for a quarter of the entire UK meat market, Prof Reilly added. Anecdotal evidence suggested that almost half of lambs were killed without prior stunning. Yet the Muslim community represented only some 3 per cent to 4 per cent of the UK population.
Commercial factors may be one reason for the large amount of Halal slaughter, Prof Reilly suggested. Abattoirs without stunning facilities may be cheaper to run and enjoy a marketing advantage.