An abattoir that sacked a worker after secret fly-on-the-wall footage showed him standing on the neck of a sheep during halal slaughter said that they take “animal welfare extraordinarily seriously.”
Bowood Lamb, an English-owned family company where four other workers had their licences suspended, rebutted the claims made by the vegan Animal Aid organisation that the footage filmed over three days in December shows “horrifying yet routine abuse” of sheep.
Slaughtermen in the North Yorkshire abattoir – who are not all reported to be Muslim – appear to be hacking at animals’ throats with saws, waving knives in front of them, making repeated cuts, throwing the sheep around, taunting and punching them in the head.
All of these incidences are strictly forbidden in the halal code, which demands animals should not be abused before being slaughtered as quickly as possible with one clean cut to the throat through the jugular vein, carotoid artery and windpipe with a sharp knife held away from the animal’s line of vision.
Jamie Foster, Bowood’s solicitor, told the BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today that the company took swift action on the workers involved upon seeing the video. The licences of the other four men were suspended by the Food Standards Agency.
He said: “The piece we saw that involved a slaughterman standing on the neck of a sheep is something that fell far below the standards that Bowood would find acceptable and that individual was immediately dismissed for gross misconduct.”
“It isn’t right to say that this is routine because Bowood is a company that takes animal welfare extraordinarily seriously.”
Halal rules also stipulate that the slaughter procedure of a healthy animal should be carried out away from other animals and that all blood should be drained after the person who cuts the throat says a blessing.
As well as halal, which literally means “permissible”, Muslims can also eat meat declared kosher by Jewish standards.
Despite preferences in both halal and kosher that animals should be slaughtered by knives, 84 per cent of cattle, 81 per cent of sheep and 88 per cent of chickens were stunned beforehand – according to UK Food Standards Agency figures from 2011.
The footage has heightened demands for all animals to be stunned before slaughter and for CCTV cameras to be placed in all abattoirs.
The Muslim Council of Britain said it is “appalled at reports of animal mistreatment at an abattoir purportedly following the principles of halal methods of slaughter.
“Animal cruelty is wrong and criminal wherever it may occur. That it is being carried out in halal slaughter makes it even more incredulous. Animal welfare should be observed by all slaughterhouses.”
Kate Fowler, Head of Campaigns at Animal Aid, said: “The vicious attacks on defenceless, frightened animals at Bowood are inexcusable. All four conveyor operators we filmed over three days abused animals to varying degrees, while the slaughterers looked on unmoved.”
Mr Foster added: “The problem with it is that Animal Aid is a vegan organisation that wants people to stop eating meat so they will capture some things that are very problematical and when they do, like they did on this occasion, a company will take action to deal with it.
He said Animal Aid’s report “made it sound as if everything that the company does is wrong and that is simply not the case.”