Up to 99 million animals a year are needlessly slaughtered without stunning there is an oversupply for the UK’s religious meat market, a study claims.
A Conservative MP called on the government to ban exports of meat produced from animals that can still feel pain when they are killed.
Stunning is carried out in slaughterhouses to render an animal insensible to pain, and campaigners have long argued that killing without it causes unacceptable suffering.
Some religious leaders accept meat from stunned animals provided they can recover consciousness but others refuse to accept it, so hundreds of thousands of animals a week have their throats cut while still awake.
The report by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) has calculated that the total meat supply from religiously approved slaughter methods is up to four times greater than that needed for Muslim and Jewish people in the UK.
“The total oversupply of non-stun meat could range between 32 per cent and 278 per cent, which represents between 34 and 99 million animals unnecessarily slaughtered without stunning every year,” the document says.
“The significant suffering caused by non-stun slaughter means it is imperative that the number of animals killed through this method is reduced to the minimum quantity needed to meet the consumption of faith communities in the UK.”
Data from the Food Standards Agency found that in 2018 a quarter of sheep were subjected to no-stun killing.
In addition, food labelling does not always accurately inform consumers about method of slaughter, the report says.
It warns halal and kosher meat is not always labelled, leading non-religious shoppers to sometimes unknowingly buy meat from non-stunned animals.
But some no-stun meat is also sold abroad. The UK exports 750,000 non-stunned sheep meat per year, representing about a quarter of non-stunned sheep meat and about 6 per cent of total UK sheep meat production, according to the CAWF.
The report cites other countries as having tougher rules, saying: “In Europe, many countries have a full ban on non-stun slaughter, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, Switzerland, Cyprus, Norway, Estonia and Slovenia.
“In New Zealand, there is a ban on non-stun slaughter but the country still maintains a successful meat export trade to Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The best example of a successful restriction, rather than ban of non-stun slaughter, is in Germany,” it says.
The report authors call on the government – which has previously said it plans to crack down on no-stun killing – to reduce the numbers involved to match demand from the UK’s Muslim and Jewish communities.
Foundation patron MP Sir Roger Gale said the report contained worrying findings that the government should urgently address, and the UK should not be selling the meat abroad.
“I hope we can emulate Germany and limit non-stun slaughter to meet demand from UK religious communities and end the oversupply,” he said.
“We should certainly not be producing non-stun meat for export and must not let the UK fall behind best international practice in this area.”
Earlier this year, animal-welfare minister Lord Goldsmith told The Independent the government was taking several steps to cut down on numbers of animals killed without stunning.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter but we respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim people to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs.