Halal abattoirs are exploiting a legal loophole to kill 2,000 lambs a day without stunning them and then sending the meat overseas, a survey commissioned by the government has revealed.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) called on ministers to ban the export of unstunned meat, saying that it contradicted the spirit of the law on humane slaughter.
Abattoirs are required to stun animals before cutting their throats to prevent them feeling pain but can use an exemption if an animal is being religiously slaughtered for halal or kosher meat. The BVA said that the law had been intended to serve the requirements of British Muslims and Jews, not to enable an export market in unstunned meat.
Much of the unstunned lamb exported from Britain is thought to be eaten by people who are not Muslim or Jewish and do not require meat that has been religiously slaughtered.
More than three million lambs and sheep were slaughtered without being stunned last year in England and Wales and just over 760,000 of them were exported, according to an analysis of Food Standards Agency figures published yesterday. The FSA report, based on a survey of all animals killed at all abattoirs over one week last year, found that 24.9 per cent of lambs and sheep were slaughtered by halal abattoirs that did not stun before slaughter and 0.1 per cent by Jewish shechita abattoirs.
The proportion not stunned has remained steady since 2015 after having risen sharply from 15 per cent in 2013.
The FSA report also revealed that 24 per cent of unstunned lambs and sheep were exported.
Simon Doherty, the BVA president, said: “The fact that 24 per cent of non-stun sheep meat is exported is highly significant and we believe goes against the spirit of the derogation in the law that allows for non-stun slaughter purely for consumption by particular communities within the UK.
“With trade arrangements after Brexit still to be determined, it is imperative that the government gives adequate thought to whether exporting non-stun meat is truly in keeping with the spirit of the law and its commitment to maintaining high animal welfare standards.”
Peter Stevenson, of Compassion in World Farming, said that he was shocked at the number of sheep being slaughtered without stunning to serve the export market. He said: “The fact that some of the non-stunned meat is being exported for consumption by people who are not Jewish or Muslim is even worse.”
Mr Stevenson said the government should ban non-stun slaughter but, if it was determined to allow it, ministers should follow France, Ireland and Germany by tightening the law to ensure that no more animals were slaughtered without stunning than were needed for religious communities within the UK.