New UK Poultry Slaughter Rules Pose Animal Welfare Problems

UK - The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has raised an urgent question with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over new slaughter regulations for England that are due to come into force on Thursday 5 November.
calendar icon 5 November 2015
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The BVA has welcomed new provisions in the rules to improve welfare at slaughter, such as the requirement for large slaughterhouses to have an Animal Welfare Officer and the introduction of Certificates of Competence.

However, it is concerned by Defra’s decision not to include stunning parameters for poultry killed ‘in accordance with religious rites’ in the new Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) Regulations.

European legislation on welfare at slaughter includes rules on stunning following work by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) to evaluate parameters for electrical waterbath stunning of poultry.

Regulations could cause "avoidable animal suffering"

The BVA said there is a high risk that if the parameters in electrical waterbath stunning for poultry killed ‘in accordance with religious rites’ are not correctly set and implemented, a percentage of those birds may be immobilised rather than stunned and therefore still conscious at the time of slaughter, causing avoidable animal suffering.

The BVA said it has previously called for European legislation to be implemented in full through WATOK, and is concerned that removing the requirement for parameters in electrical waterbath stunning removes the legal guarantee for effective stunning before slaughter.

The organisation has written to Defra to seek answers on how the new legislation will ensure all poultry are effectively stunned before slaughter.

BVA President Sean Wensley said: “In the last year we have seen headlines about the inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter and, while these new WATOK regulations are strong in many areas, we are concerned that the omission of specific parameters for electrical waterbath stunning leaves some poultry vulnerable to ineffective stunning.

“We have written to Defra outlining our concerns about this gap that undermines the science the regulations are built upon. It is difficult to see how effective stunning can be assured for all poultry if parameters are not set when poultry are killed in accordance with religious rites.

"Slaughtermen, Official Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Officers in abattoirs are not able to tell the difference between birds that have been effectively stunned and those that are just electro-immobilised, thus compromising the animal welfare standards that these regulations are being put in place to protect.”

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