If you have been following @theoldbrewer on Twitter you may gather that I have empathy with non-stun slaughter. I have just seen some lambs in a lush green meadow here in sunny, or is it wet, Devon. Do they know their purpose in life? As they jump and skip among daisies and buttercups do they know the grass they nibble will grow and grow again but that they are destis ned for the dinner table? Presumably not.
I am partial to my meat. I am country born and bread. My father was the son of a farmer. As a lad he trained as a butcher and later bought a small holding where he kept pigs for bacon. I am too young to remember on-farm slaughter.
Driving past these lambs I had to ask myself if they were destined for my dinner plate would I prefer them to be stunned or not stunned at slaughter. I think I might prefer the latter if it were possible and practical.
To be honest I am struggling with the stun v non-stun debate. I am struggling because although this debate is being held in public I am not convinced those participating in it are being entirely honest with their audience. It also seems a little one sided. I cannot see that at anytime those who would ban non-stun practice are talking with non-stun practitioners.
I listen to the arguments made by the British Veterinary Association, the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare and the RSPCA but something seems to be missing. The BVA says that stunning at slaughter is a faultless procedure. They claim a 0.0004% stun failure rate using Defra/FSA data covering the past seven years or so. That’s odd because some of the most recent EU wide data is now about ten years old and points to a failure rate of 6% to 30%.
I accept the age of the data and that standards may have changed since then but wait. Stunning has been practised for almost a century, have been introduced apparently for health and safety reasons. Are our secular welfare experts telling us that they have not been able to improve on this until the past decade?
Dr Temple Grandin, the acknowledged US expert, considers that a 6% stun failure rate is “acceptable”. It seems that where standards are closely monitored the failure rate are nearer 1%. That’s in one in every hundred cases something happens to cause a stun to fail. In most cases the animal will be re-stunned. That said the authorities appear to recognise that there is a real possibility that mis-stuns are not noticed.
Applying this to the lambs I passed in their field I was bound to ask what if those were the lambs that were mis-stunned. What indignities might they be subjected to? If the stun operator in the busy slaughterhouse doesn’t spot the problem my dinner will have endured seriously inhumane treatment. Hopefully the operator does see that he has merely caused a lot of pain and restuns quickly.
I haven’t spoken to any Jewish shochet but apparently they train to slaugher for seven years. Veterinarians presumably are not so trained. Who are the experts?
I am coming around to the view that non-stun slaughter in the proper place may not be wrong. I have enough knowledge of physiology to understand that when four major blood vessels in the neck are correctly, quickly and cleanly cut unconsciousness must follow quickly.
Do large industrial slaughterhouses provide conditions for good non-stun practice? Possibly not. OK, probably not.
Would I go out of my way to find non-stun slaughtered lamb?
Perhaps the difficulty of obtaining it should make me rethink my relationship with my liking for meat.