Shechita UK position on mis-stunning

Apr 7, 2014

The Times article Saturday the 5th April 2014, highlighted a great deal of confusion and misinformation about the levels of mis-stunning of animals at the point of slaughter in the United Kingdom.

For many years Shechita UK has maintained that the problem of mis-stunning is significant and that the animal welfare lobby has a responsibility to address it. Neil Parish MP recently submitted a written Question, asking for information about the incidences of mis-stunning in the UK. We believe that the answer to this question paints an incredibly misleading picture.

There is a general problem that data on mis-stunning is hard to come by. That is unsurprising because by definition it requires an abattoir to admit some measure of malpractice. We are therefore forced to rely on sporadic accounts of mis-stunning in (usually EU-wide) reports which are often looking at stunning more generally. Much of the data is old and indeed it is possible that the situation has improved to some extent in the last decade or so. There is some more recent verified data from the United States

There should be no dispute about the evidence that mis-stunning is an extremely serious animal welfare issue. Such evidence can be found in a number of EU reports that relate to animal slaughter. The most recent European Commission report that references mis-stunning (EU Commission Report on the various stunning methods for poultry, Dec. 2013), provides a useful case study on poultry. It places the rate of mis-stunning for poultry at 4% across Europe. If that 4% were representative of the UK, the UK would be mis-stunning around 30,000,000 birds every year. Of course it is possible that the UK is years ahead of the rest of the European Union in this area and maybe the UK rate is much lower than the EU figure. Maybe it’s 2% or even 1%. If that were the case, the UK perhaps would only be mis-stunning 15,000,000 or maybe 7,500,000 birds a year.

Yet the Government statistics suggest that the number of birds mis-stunned in 2013 was 13 and in 2012, it was 7. Clearly something here does not add up.

Concerning Red Meat, an EFSA report in 2004 (Welfare aspects of the main systems of stunning and killing the main commercial species of animals) indicated that there was a 4% to 6% mis- stun rate in the UK. A later Europe wide study (Study on the stunning/killing practices in slaughterhouses and their economic, social and environmental consequences. 2007) said that the rate could be between 6% and 30% for non penetrative stunning.  Once again the government’s total of less than 20 combined mis-stuns for sheep and cattle does not correlate with this research.

We interrogated the information further and we eventually understood why there is such a discrepancy. We contacted the FSA directly to ask them how they collect their data on mis-stunning. They explained that they simply don’t have sufficient resource to monitor mi- stuns. Of course slaughtermen are extremely unlikely to report a failed stun to a vet since this would amount to malpractice on his part.

So the FSA’s figures do not show the number of animals mis-stunned at all – they merely show the number of occasions on which mis-stunning has been recorded by the current limited method of oversight.

However, the discrepancy between the EU and US statistics with those valued by the UK govt does need further investigation.  Those concerned with animal welfare should make this a priority.