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Abattoirs: Non-stun Slaughter

Volume 788: debated on Wednesday 7 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to minimise the number of animals slaughtered without stunning in abattoirs in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, EU and domestic legislation require all animals to be stunned before slaughter, with a long-standing exception for Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. We recently asked the Food Standards Agency to conduct a survey of slaughterhouses that included looking at different slaughter methods. The survey’s results should help to ascertain the volumes of meat arising from different slaughter methods.

I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate the Government on the number of measures they have announced recently to improve animal welfare in this country. They are progressive and very welcome. However, on non-stunned slaughter, I am afraid we have not made much progress. The latest Food Standards Agency figures to which the noble Lord alluded show that the number of sheep slaughtered without stunning in Britain in 2017 doubled in the six years from 2011 to over 3 million sheep. That is 3 million sheep that had their throats cut without being rendered unconscious first. Does the Minister agree that, in that aspect of animal welfare, we are going backwards?

My Lords, that is why it is important that we first look at the results of the 2018 survey. The last full survey was in 2013, so it is important that we hear about the issue again. The Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but we have been very clear over a long period—since the 1933 Act—that we respect the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to consume meat in accordance with their religious practices. However, we expect our announcement on CCTV, affecting all slaughterhouses, to be an advance in animal welfare.

Does the Minister realise that there is a partial solution to this, particularly in respect of the Muslim community? All New Zealand lamb that arrives in this country is halal and all the animals were stunned prior to slaughter. If it is good enough to have a standard in New Zealand that classifies as halal, why do we put up with a local decision, which is not an international rule? There is a perfectly good arrangement from the other side of the world, which has led so much in food safety and farming practices. Why can we not adopt the New Zealand practices in respect of the Muslim community?

My Lords, my understanding is that there are different requirements in different parts of the Muslim community. The noble Lord, with all his experience, is absolutely right, but certain parts of the Muslim community are prepared to have stunned halal meat and other parts are not. I return to the fact that we have this long-standing reasoning behind permitting the communities to eat meat in that way. We certainly want to enhance animal welfare, and that is why the official veterinarians must be in every part of the slaughterhouse.

My Lords, may I support the position adopted by my noble friend? It is very important to carry the Muslim and Jewish communities with us and I hope they will be tightly involved in any consultations that may take place.

My Lords, as I say, we do not intend to move away from this long-standing right, but we want, with the other measures that we are considering, to ensure that all slaughtermen hold a certificate of competence, which is clearly essential, and that the official veterinarians can see from the video footage that everything done in all slaughterhouses is carried out in a proper manner. We certainly want to advance animal welfare in all slaughterhouses.

My Lords, the growth figures that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about are in excess of what is needed to meet religious needs for the slaughtering of animals without stunning. We have been leaders in the European Union on animal welfare, so have the Government looked at the German system of quotas as a way of bringing the numbers down, and if not, why not?

My Lords, we should get the figures in March and we will want to look at the survey, which will be put in the public domain at some point this year. It is also important to say that we want to see what proportion of this meat is going for export. We want to look at where the livestock is sourced and the market distribution, including exports. Once we know that, we will be in a position to give this issue the consideration it deserves.

My Lords, is it not the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, accurately pointed out, that the number of animals, in this case sheep, being killed without stunning is rising dramatically? I am sure that is not mirrored by a rise in the population who demand halal meat. What is the Minister’s explanation for the number of animals having risen so sharply in the UK?

The noble Lord has raised a number of points. I understand that people in the Muslim community eat more sheepmeat than the rest of the British population and that the number of Muslims who are looking to have non-stunned halal meat has also increased because of enhanced religious observance. As I say, with this survey we want to look at the reasons behind this. Obviously, our intention is to allow an exemption for religious communities, but not that this meat should go into the wider market.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the horrifically cruel treatment of sheep in a slaughterhouse near Thirsk? The animals were not stunned, rather they were kicked and mutilated; what they went through is really horrifying. The men involved will be tried in court in Leeds very soon. Can the Minister say when CCTV will be operational in all slaughterhouses?

My Lords, we intend to lay legislation on this matter very shortly. I wish I could give the noble Baroness and the House a precise date, but we want to bring it forward as soon as possible. CCTV will be installed in all areas where live animals are present. We want animals to have a good life and a respectful end to their lives. I think this will advance that.

My Lords, of course we must wholeheartedly and unreservedly respect freedom of religious belief, but there are among us those who would prefer not to eat meat that has been slaughtered using a mechanism that we believe causes unnecessary suffering. Will the Government now grasp this nettle and arrange for a labelling mechanism so that those of us who do not believe in following this practice have the freedom of our own belief?

My Lords, the labelling issue is very important. We think it is absolutely essential that everyone can make an informed choice. We will be considering this issue in the context of our departure from the EU. I also say to my noble friend that farm assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor and the RSPCA Assured scheme, require stunned slaughter. That is an important feature.

My Lords, we all welcome the introduction of compulsory CCTV in slaughterhouses, which should assist with proper welfare standards. The noble Lord will know, however, that the recent incident at 2 Sisters came to light not because of the CCTV but because of undercover reporters. Unless the Food Standards Agency has the proper resources to look at the footage, we will get no further forward. Will the Minister explain what extra resources will be put in place so that the CCTV footage is used and not just sitting there in a dead camera?

My Lords, it is very important that the official veterinarian takes his or her duties extremely seriously. That is why the footage will need to be stored by the slaughterhouse operators for 90 days. The official veterinarians will have access to the CCTV systems and their recorded images. It is important that CCTV recording may be used as evidence. On resources, the official veterinarians, who are essential to this, have their duties. There have to be official veterinarians in slaughterhouses. As I said, this will be an important part of the work of enhancing animal welfare at the end of animals’ lives.