There has been a large increase in the proportion of animals killed through religious slaughter, a survey for the Food Standards Agency has found.
The number of cattle killed according to the principles of Islamic halal slaughter, in which animals are killed without first being stunned, rose by nearly a third between 2011 and 2013, while the number of sheep not being stunned increased by half.
The only progress on animal welfare was with halal-slaughtered poultry, where slightly more (1.7 per cent) were stunned than previously.
The number of animals killed without being first stunned for Jewish kosher slaughter decreased across the board in the same period, however.
The overwhelming majority of animals killed using halal methods are stunned before killing; around 80 per cent, according to the British Veterinary Association.
This proportion appears to be falling, however. Awal Fuseini, certification manager of the Halal Food Authority, which stuns its animals, told The Times newspaper that the increase was due to “stronger campaigning” by some Muslim groups who believed stunning killed animals.
He said a trial to show that animals recovered would help convince campaigners that stunning was in accordance with Islamic law.
“If we are given the backing to do the trial then we can prove to people that whatever information they have that stunning kills animals is not true,” he told the newspaper.
One in 50 cattle killed in Britain is not stunned; roughly one in 30 chickens suffer the same fate. The figure rises to one in seven for sheep and goats.
The figures were obtained by visits from FSA officials to a representative sample of 232 slaughterhouses and was conducted in September 2013.
Working with the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association has gathered 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for the end of the practice.
“The success of the e-petition reaching 100,000 signatures two months before the deadline shows the strength of public opinion and support for the aims of our campaign,” BVA president John Blackwell said. “Slaughter without stunning unnecessarily compromises animal welfare at the time of death and as such we call for an end to its practice.”
David Bowles, RSPCA Head of Public Affairs said there should be no exemption for religious groups.
“There is growing public concern about the welfare of farm animals and people believe animals should be treated as humanely as possible throughout their lives, including at the time of slaughter,” he argued.
“Animal welfare science and practical experience indicate that cutting animals’ throats while they are fully conscious can cause significant pain and distress. There should be no exemption under the law to allow non-stun slaughter and we urge politicians to take action on this important issue.”
Some religious groups reacted angrily. Shimon Cohen, the director of Shechita UK, a Jewish organisation which campaigns on matters relating to the protection of the provision of kosher meat, said:
“The BVA has been obsessed with removing the right of religious communities to carry out religious slaughter, without conclusive evidence that it is less humane than conventional, industrialised mechanical slaughter. That they continue to campaign on this issue, despite the Government’s repeated assurances that it will not be swayed, is a dereliction of their responsibility to focus on far more severe welfare issues such as mis-stunning and animal cruelty.”
A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: “The government has no intention of banning religious slaughter. The government would prefer animals to be stunned before slaughter, but we respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat in accordance with their beliefs.”
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