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UK: Late Defra Change divides opinion on EU Stun Regulation

7/7/14

Veterinary Times, June 30 2014 Volume 44 No 26
The BVA has claimed failure to introduce EU poultry regulations could compromise animal welfare.

It made the claim after Defra halted its decision to implement the EU regulation just days before it was due to come into force, after a judicial review was launched on behalf of more than 20 abattoirs.
The new regulation states increased electric currents should be used by abattoirs when stunning chickens and will mean poultry is stunned to potentially lethal doses.

This was welcomed by animal welfare campaigners, including the BVA, which says it will ensure animals are effectively stunned before being slaughtered. However, halal and poultry producers are concerned it does not comply with halal slaughter rules, as poultry needs to recover from stunning prior to slaughter.

BVA president Robin Hargreaves said: “The UK industry prides itself on maintaining some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Enabling ineffective stunning, as well as non-stun slaughter, to take place in UK abattoirs calls this reputation into question.

“We have supported the provisions to improve welfare at slaughter within EU Regulation 1099/2009, which includes new rules on stunning following work by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to evaluate stunning parameters. The application of these parameters will ensure poultry is effectively stunned before slaughter. Failure to implement the new regulations risks a percentage of chickens being ineffectively stunned, thus compromising animal welfare.

“It is disappointing for everyone who supports this campaign that the Prime Minister has stated this Government will not consider a full ban on slaughter without stunning. However, we will continue to work with ministers and stakeholders on measures to improve animal welfare, such as post-cut stunning and clearer labelling.

“This is a welfare issue that affects millions of animals every year and the strong response to our petition shows many people agree action is long overdue. Defra must explain the reasons for the delay and provide assurances it will not compromise welfare at slaughter.”

The delay was a positive development for welfare, claimed British Poultry Council director of food policy, Richard Griffiths, who believes regulations could do more harm than good. He said: “There were serious concerns over the halal status of stunned animals under these rules. Our fear was it would drive producers outside our pro-stunning membership to non-stunning, which would bring a subsequent drop in welfare standards.

Mr Griffiths said Defra was unlikely to make any decisions about the regulation before the next election. He said: “My reading of the situation is we won’t see this re-emerge until after the general election as it’s a vote loser and religious slaughter is an emotive subject.

“This is a shame as there are good points of the regulation, but it needs to be looked at again and Defra has the scope to look at other parameters. If the regulation was brought in as it stands now, I think non-stun slaughter would increase, which defeats the object.”

The BVA has launched a petition for clearer labelling and an end to non-stun slaughter, which had reached nearly 70,000 signatures as Veterinary Times went to press.

In response to the petition, Defra said the Government would prefer to see all animals stunned before slaughter, but respects the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religion.

A spokesman for The Joseph Interfaith Foundation said: “The National Council of Imams and Rabbis of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation is pleased with the Government’s response.

“The Government’s decision shows support for those with religious beliefs, as well as those with none. We think now cooperation between the two groups is the most positive and effective way forward.”

However, not all halal campaigners supported Defra’s decision. BeHalal, a non-profit organisation, has criticised Defra’s decision to postpone regulation and claims the stunning would have taken care of a number of issues for both Muslim and non-Muslim consumers.

A Behalal spokesman said: “We are very disappointed that Defra decided at the eleventh hour to postpone the decision to increase the stunning for poultry as this would have taken care of a number of concerns to help both Muslim and non-Muslim consumers.

“With regards to reporting of halal being fed to wider, in particular non-Muslims or individuals not wishing to consume halal meat, these groups are likely to be consuming the pre-stunned poultry, which is produced in much larger quantities compared to poultry through religious slaughter”.

“Defra we believe have failed to protect consumers and resolve long standing issues over what the halal label actual means what it is supposed to and have let down all consumers.”

Defra has not confirmed when the regulation may or may not be implemented. A Defra spokesman said: “This is a complex area and ministers have decided to give this further consideration. There are strict rules that govern the slaughter of animals in England and these remain unchanged.”

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