The BVA (the British Veterinary Association) is headed by veterinary surgeons who are unashamedly advocates of banning non-stun slaughter practice. There is no evidence that non-stun slaughter creates unacceptable welfare standards. John Blackwell, the current president, works closely with the FSA (the Food Standards Agency) and the latter was compelled to conduct unannounced detailed inspections of UK slaughterhouses early in 2015 after undercover Animal Aid filming captured images of horrendous welfare practice at a non-stun facility in Bowood. The FSA reported in May. That was a very quick turnaround.
This poses John Blackwell and the BVA a dilemma and a new challenge.
It is vital that we grasp that the FSA survey set out to understand welfare in UK slaughterhouses and its inspectors (mostly veterinarians, I presume) clearly did not report that welfare in non-stun facilities was seriously worse than in stun facilities.
The FSA report can be found at the bottom of this web page:
That FSA does not make reference to “religious slaughter” in the body of the report is conspicuous. John Blackwell is adamant that non-stun slaughter is unnecessarily cruel. Animal Aid produced graphic images from a halal slaughterhouse and the FSA was therefore bound to comment forthrightly if non-stun slaughter practice is seriously more cruel than practices in stun slaughterhouses. It did not.
That John Blackwell is on a mission is not in doubt. He praised Scotland for its standards and minimal use of non-stun slaughter. Here is a report of recent comments.
“Scotland was praised for its high standards of welfare at slaughter, having very little non-stun slaughter. But the BVA President warned that there were challenges, … and that the country needed to ensure that the amount of non-stun slaughter did not rise.”
In the meantime the EU has conducted a survey on labelling meat. Here is the Farmers Weekly take on the report.
“He [John Blackwell] added: “The long-awaited release of this report gives renewed vigour to the BVA’s campaign for better consumer information on animal welfare at slaughter and the need for meat from non-stun slaughter to be clearly labelled.”
This report is actually flawed because it assumes that stun-slaughter is a guaranteed perfect “clinical” procedure. Given that the last best data collected from across the EU was in 2004 and concluded that mis-stun rates varied from 6% to 31% this assumption is not reliable. A mis-stun is cruel. I imagine that a mis-stun is eminently many times more distressing than the use of an electric goad, the use of which is strictly regulated. No one actually knows how common or rare mis-stuns are. As I understand it the FSA’s Official Veterinary Inspectors are only required to visit stun rooms once a day and their presence potentially influences operator behaviour. The Animal Aid images, even if they provide a subjective appraisal of what has happened show that stun-slaughter facilities, including those accredited by the RSPCA, show that we do not have perfect practice.
One problem with the EU survey is that most EU languages may not have a word that corresponds to our word “stun” when it is used in this context. The stun gun was introduced as better alternative to “poleaxing” or “bludgeoning” (especially of cattle).
In this context the word “stun” most closely translates to “anaesthetise” or “render unconscious” – words normally associated with the operating room in a hospital and affectionately dramatised in Holby City. In hospitals the anaesthetist makes a little scratch on the back of your hand and as they say, “you will feel a little prick”. Thus the concept of “stunning” does not conjure violent images.
What the EU report found was that, unless prompted, most people do not much thought to how their meat is produced. People seemingly aren’t bothered. No more than 2% of those questioned were Muslims or Jews. Jews were too few in number to be relevant. Of the Muslims interviewed (no more than about twenty from the UK) how many normally ask many questions when buying meat. I suspect that if 500 Muslims were questioned in the High Street a large number would report that they do not delve too closely into production practices for their meat. Many accept a halal label and many may assume “halal = non-stun”. Some halal traders do not even ask and could not tell their customers is they were asked*.
Here is the paradox for the BVA and John Blackwell.
Let’s assume that any labelling standards assumed that stun-slaughter is the default standard. That’s quite reasonable and it means that most people will not see any difference. They won’t suddenly see packs of meat labelled “non-stun” in their normal supermarket. They already know their local farmers’ market sells stunned meat. On the other hand more conscientious Muslims will ask why their meat does not carry a “non-stun” label.
Muslim food information agencies, such as behalal.org, will have a new quality mark to use when promoting good halal cuisine. The demand for non-stun meat should increase.
This will present a paradox and a real dilemma for John Blackwell and British Vets and others. MPs such as Neil Parish (http://www.neilparish.co.uk/) also want to ban non-stun slaughter but political correctness prevents them from campaigning forthrightly so they too are hoping that “non-stun” labelling will encourage secular purchasers, who outnumber Muslims, will shun the “non-stun” labels that they will probably never see as a matter of course.
How then will John Blackwell and Neil Parish develop their campaigns? In the absence of data that shows that here in the UK non-stun slaughter operators work outside unacceptable welfare standards what criteria will they use? What new pseudo-sciences will they invent or seek?
This is going to be interesting. It may require some of these activists to “come out” and admit their innate anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. That may not be a bad thing. We will then be able to start filling the chasms in their knowledge.
* I know this to be so. I use a local halal pizza shop engaged the manager. Interestingly he has a number of Jewish customers. Indeed. Jews normally would not eat halal meat and certainly would not eat meat stunned at slaughter. I suspect that kosher meat is not easily accessed so halal is a good low-priced alternative. Most secular people do not realise that most halal meat is actually derived from stunned animals so I guess these Jews make the same assumption. It’s only one anecdote but most Muslims that I know are not best informed.