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RSPCA reveals shoppers could be buying meat from animals that were not stunned before slaughter as UK Government releases delayed figures

15 February 2019, at 12:00a.m.

UK Government responds to the RSPCA and BVA's call for delayed slaughter figures to be released to the public

Latest UK Government figures reveal that meat from more than 90,000 animals slaughtered without stunning could have been sold in supermarkets unlabelled, the RSPCA warns.

The figures, which were due last autumn but only released 14 February after the RSPCA joined forces with the BVA to put pressure on the Government, reveal that 90,500 animals, mainly chickens, slaughtered for religious purposes, could have ended up in UK supermarkets unlabelled.

As the law stands, there is no mandatory requirement to label meat which has been slaughtered without stunning, which means consumers are unaware that they are buying meat produced in this way.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) report revealed more than 94 million animals were slaughtered without stunning in 2018 - averaging three animals per second - and the RSPCA renewed its calls for the UK Government to introduce a ban on this practice.

Dr Marc Cooper, head of farm animals at the RSPCA said: “We’re encouraged that these important Food Standards Agency slaughter figures have been released today, following a joint letter last week from the RSPCA and the BVA urging the UK Government to release these crucial statistics.

“The report highlights that over 94 million animals were slaughtered without stunning in 2018 - that’s an average of three animals every second. The RSPCA is against any slaughter of farm animals without stunning as the scientific evidence, and the view from the UK Government’s own advisors, concludes this practice can cause unnecessary suffering.

“What is particularly disturbing is that 90,000 of the 2.9 million non-stunned animals slaughtered for kosher certified meat were rejected as being ‘unfit for religious consumption.’ We are concerned that this meat could be entering the conventional market unlabelled.”

The FSA report states that: “It is unclear whether or not hind quarters [from animals killed for kosher certified meat] are generally sent on for wider consumption.” So meat from tens of thousands of rejected animals and the unused hind quarters of accepted animals are being killed using non-stun methods with the meat likely to be packaged unlabelled and sold to unsuspecting public as conventional meat.

The figures also revealed that the proportion of animals that had been stunned prior to slaughter for halal meat last year (2018) had dropped significantly from previous years.

Another concern in the report is the trade of non-stunned sheep meat as it is revealed 750,000 of the animals slaughtered in this way were being sent abroad. The RSPCA believes that the exemption which allows non-stun slaughter for religious purposes should purely meet the needs of religious communities in this UK.

Dr Cooper added: “Finally, we have further concerns over the proportion of sheep slaughtered in the UK last year that were not stunned and the meat from over 750,000 of those sheep being sent abroad. EU and UK slaughter regulations allow a derogation for non-stun slaughter, providing that the meat from the animals is only used to meet the requirements of the religious communities. The new Government figures suggest that non-stun slaughter is being carried out far more often than is required and is being exported for use outside the UK. We believe this breaches the spirit of the law which allows an exemption for religious communities which we believe should apply only to those in the UK while the ban."

“This report highlights the serious welfare, trade and consumer concerns around the practice of non-stun slaughter in this country.

"The RSPCA has been calling for an end to non-stun slaughter for many years, as it seriously compromises animal welfare. Our concern does not relate to the expression of religious belief but the welfare of animals.

“We need to follow the lead of other countries that have successfully banned non-stun slaughter: Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark, and more recently, the Flanders region of Belgium. We have seen how some countries such as New Zealand, have a vibrant export trade in stunned meat to Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia showing that trade need not be barrier to better protection of farm animals.”

The latest figures also come the same day that the European Parliament voted for action from the EU Commission to end non-stun slaughter, showing a willingness to end this practice across the EU.

Until there is a change in the law to end non-stun slaughter, there are several measures the UK Government could introduce to reduce the suffering involved in this practice. For example, by ensuring trade deals with other countries do not include non-stun meat or live animals for non-stun slaughter, clear labelling should be adopted to enable consumers to make an informed choice about the meat they buy and how it was slaughtered.