Shechita campaigners have accused the government of presenting “woefully misleading” figures on the number of animals mis-stunned in British abattoirs.
Health Minister Jane Ellison told Parliament that, according to the Food Standards Agency, the number of mis-stuns for animals, including chickens, cattle and sheep, in 2013 had been 28, an increase of one on the previous year.
She added that only 12 chickens had been mis-stunned in the UK last year.
Groups supporting religious slaughter claim that mis-stunning affects millions of animals, and that shechita — where animals are not stunned — is no less humane that other methods of slaughter .
Vets responded to Ms Ellison’s statement by claiming the figures undermined one of the main planks in the argument defending shechita.
In a report in The Times, British Veterinary Association president Robin Hargreaves suggested that the figures exposed the “myth that mis-stunning is a greater animal welfare problem than non-stun slaughter”.
In response, Henry Grunwald, chairman of Shechita UK, wrote to the Times: “We take no pleasure in having to expound the depth of the problem of mis-stunning. The apparent determination of animal welfare groups to creatively gloss over the problem makes it all the more troubling.
“Studies from Europe and the US place the numbers of mis-stunning of poultry each year in the tens of millions.”
Shimon Cohen, Shechita UK director, told the JC this week that the true figure for mis-stunned chickens was likely to be closer to 30 million.
He said data on mis-stunning could not be accurately collected by the FSA’s “inadequate method of oversight.
“The FSA vets take one trip per day around the abattoir with their clipboard. They have no resources or obligation to go more frequently than that.
“A slaughterman is extremely unlikely to report a failed stun to a vet since this would amount to malpractice on his part,” he said. Animal rights group Animal Aid also claimed the government had underestimated the extent of mis-stunning in abattoirs.
In a statement this week, it said: “In 250 hours of footage filmed by Animal Aid between 2009 and 2012, vets were not seen anywhere near the stunning and slaughter processes in any of the nine randomly selected UK slaughterhouses.
It is clear that vets are not seeing what goes on, and their reports that ‘all is well’ are based on ignorance.
“Animal Aid saw many more mis-stuns than the total reported by vets almost every day in almost every slaughterhouse it filmed via fly-on-the-wall cameras.”
Last month, BVA president-elect John Blackwell sparked controversy after he called on Britain to follow Denmark in banning religious slaughter.