The British government says it has no intention of prohibiting the slaughter of animals without stunning despite an online petition demanding a ban receiving the support of more than 100,000 people.
The petition, on the parliamentary petitions site, calls for the government to bring in legislation that will require the stunning of animals before they are slaughtered, as practiced during Muslim Halal slaughter and Jewish Shechita traditions.
Yet despite the petition receiving tens of thousands of signatures, the government said it had “no intention” of outlawing the non-stunned slaughter.
Britain’s top veterinarian, John Blackwell, has slammed the government’s decision, saying it cannot simply “ignore public feeling”.
Mr Blackwell said he would continue the fight over animal welfare and push for greater public knowledge over how meat is killed.
Campaigners will now press for a fresh Commons debate on the issue after quickly exceeding the six-figure threshold required on the parliamentary petition site to trigger a possible time slot.
The controversy surrounds legal religious exemptions in the slaughter of animals.
During a speech to the Israeli parliament last year, Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to uphold Shechita slaughter. His government has also refused to cede to opponents of Muslim Halal slaughter which requires a the severing of the animal’s neck whilst it is still alive.
Opponents – who include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Humane Slaughter Association – say they respect the various faith traditions but insist animal welfare must take priority as scientific evidence suggests that thost animals killed without stunning feel pain.
The petition states: “We must differentiate between religious and non-stun slaughter. Our concern does not relate to religious belief but to the animal welfare compromise,” it states.
“Non-stun slaughter affects millions of animals. We support a good life and a humane death for all animals.”
There are also concerns about large quantities of meat being sold without any indication of how the animal was slaughtered and the petition says that until a ban is imposed, consumers must be told what they are buying.
BVA president Blackwell said: “This is a truly fantastic result for animal welfare. BVA has long argued that all animals should be stunned before slaughter to render them insensible to pain and we are delighted that the British public has got so firmly behind our campaign. Consumers value the high welfare of British produce and care deeply about the provenance of their food.
“But under the current legislation meat from non-stun slaughter can end up in the food chain unlabelled as such, which is completely unacceptable. Scientific evidence tells us that non-stun slaughter allows the animal to perceive pain and compromises animal welfare.
“This is an issue that affects the welfare of millions of individual animals every year. The Government simply cannot ignore the strength of public feeling and we look forward to petitioning the Backbench Business Committee for a full debate in the new parliament.”
According to the Food Standards Agency, some 80% of animals in the UK killed by halal methods were stunned beforehand.
The Jewish method of slaughter cannot involve pre-slaughter stunning at all.
It is estimated that in total, under any method, 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry slaughtered in Britain are not pre-stunned, although a proportion are stunned soon after the cut.
Vets say unstunned cattle take about 20 seconds to lose consciousness, sheep six or seven seconds and poultry seven or eight seconds, but all these times can be far longer.