In recent days, some have argued that wanting to ban slaughter without stunning makes you racist (Banning ritual slaughter would be a victory for racists). This is distracting from the issue at hand: millions of farm animals suffer a painful and hugely distressing death every year. What I object to is allowing animals to suffer, not religious beliefs.
In the EU, slaughtering animals without first stunning them to render them unconscious is illegal but an allowance is made for certain religious communities who require animals to be conscious at the time their throats are cut.
An investigation by Animal Aid which shows abhorrent cruelty to animals being slaughtered without being stunned as well as a petition started by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) to end the practice has reignited this debate.
There is irrefutable scientific evidence that animals slaughtered without stunning suffer extreme pain, distress and anxiety. The European Food Safety Authority has said that: "due to the serious animal welfare concerns associated with slaughter without stunning, pre-cut stunning should always be performed". Stunning an animal before it is slaughtered renders that animal insensible to pain before being killed. Our own government has said it would 'prefer' to see all animals slaughtered to be stunned. How then can it continue to allow a practice that causes intolerable suffering to animals?
Whilst slaughter without stunning is permitted, we need to label it as such so consumers can make an informed choice about the meat they buy.
The sad truth is it's not just slaughter without stunning that can be inhumane and cruel. Brutality towards animals can happen in any slaughterhouse. There is a need for stronger regulations and good practices to be shared.
Between 2009 and 2011 Animal Aid filmed in nine UK slaughterhouses, in eight out the nine they documented animals being abused, including being: kicked, punched, burnt, beaten and given electric shocks with stunning tongs. As the famous phrase goes "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.", if all slaughterhouses operated as if they had glass walls perhaps less animals would suffer.
For the consumer wondering what on earth to buy at the supermarket, Soil Association Organic and RSPCA Freedom Food are good choices as their animals are stunned to kill (i.e. death is instantaneous), or they ensure the animal remains unconscious until it dies.
The science is clear - all animals slaughtered should be effectively stunned before slaughter. The government must have the courage to close the loophole and stop slaughter without stunning. I will continue to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. This debate, for me, is about animal welfare and slaughtering animals in a way that causes the least possible suffering.
Whilst it has already passed the required 100,000 signatures, please sign the BVA's government e-petition to end non-stun slaughter to show your support. The petition closes on March 30th 2015. I'm hopeful that the government will debate this critically important issue.