Meat processors have accused former Farming Minister George Eustice of double standards on non-stun slaughter after he called for a free vote for MPs.
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said it was ‘amazed’ to hear Mr Eustice believed stunning immediately postcut in religious slaughter should be encouraged, during a Westminster Hall debate last week.
AIMS said it entirely agreed with the principle, but said a large number of halal slaughterers had been prevented from adopting this practice because Defra insisted on a ‘20 second rule’ for sheep.
Under the rule, nothing can be done for 20 seconds after the cut to ensure the animal was unconscious, including moving the animal or stunning it.
And if post-cut stunning was reintroduced, AIMS said Defra could stop the ‘very cruel practice’ of insisting sheep were separated from their flock mates and forced into the restrainer alone.
It also questioned why Mr Eustice did not promote practices used in Australia and New Zealand, where abattoirs could demonstrate to customers that sheep were alive and unharmed by electrical stunning and eligible as halal through demonstrations of recovery after stunning.
AIMS said this could increase the acceptability and demand for stunned meat.
But Mr Eustice insisted there had been no U-turn and he wanted to significantly curtail non-stun slaughter, but AIMS had ‘traditionally been apologists’ for the practice.
He said he was arguing for consideration of a post-cut stun specifically on cattle due to the time it takes to lose consciousness.
But for sheep, the right approach would be increasing minimum standstill times or requiring a strict quota to reduce the amount of non-stun slaughter.
He also added there was no justification to routinely demonstrate recoverable stun in sheep to buyers, as it was accepted head only stunning was recoverable.
Mr Eustice said it mattered to farmers their stock were spared ‘any unnecessary pain or suffering’.
“It is time for the meat processors to respect the views of farmers on this matter,” he added.