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Legality of non-stun religious slaughter questioned, as “unacceptable” numbers of animals die in pain and distress

Professor Bill Reilly, a former president of the British Veterinary Association, claimed today that the practice of slaughtering animals without stunning them breaches legal requirements, and that vastly more animals are being slaughtered in this way than is necessary.

Although non-stun slaughter is generally illegal in the UK, there is an exemption that permits animals to be slaughtered without being stunned first if it is necessary for religious reasons, such as in Schecita (Jewish) or Halal (Muslim) butchery. However, the law states that this must not cause “unnecessary suffering”, and Reilly contends that the animals are subjected to considerable suffering by this practice.

Having witnessed Schecita slaughter, Reilly described the experience: “The distress, fear and pain were there for all to see (and hear) in the abattoir.”

The former Farm Animal Welfare Council and the EU-funded Dialrel Project similarly concluded that non-stun slaughter is extremely painful and distressing for animals.

The exemption exists specifically to enable Jews and Muslims to have access to meat that has been slaughtered in a way that aligns with their religions. This is despite the fact that Islamic food rules can be satisfied while stunning an animal before slaughter; indeed, most Halal meat is produced from stunned animals.

Even more pertinent is the fact that a majority of non-stunned meat is consumed by people who do not require Kosher or Halal meat. Halal meat accounts for a quarter of the entire UK meat market, despite Muslims making up 3-4% of the population, and is routinely served in some schools, restaurants and hotels as well as sold unlabelled in supermarkets, so it is certain that many non-Muslims regularly eat Halal meat unknowingly. Similarly, it has been estimated that 70% of meat slaughtered in using Schecita methods is consumed by people not in the Jewish community.

Reilly claimed in the Veterinary Record that two million animals are slaughtered in the Schecita method every year, and that anecdotal evidence suggests that half of all lambs slaughtered in the UK are not stunned.

Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, responded to Reilly’s comments: “The BHA would like to see a complete ban on animal slaughter without pre-stunning. The BHA does not object to Schecita and Halal methods of slaughter because they are religious methods, but because they are methods that inflict pain upon animals. These harmful practices are only permitted because of the privileging of religious beliefs over animal rights, and indeed over non-religious beliefs, and should therefore not be permitted.

“At the very least, we believe that animals that have been slaughtered without being stunned should be clearly labelled, as this will ensure that those who have no religious requirements and who object to consuming meat from an animal that has died in extreme pain can avoid it, which will undoubtedly significantly reduce the UK’s consumption of non-stunned meat.”

Reilly’s own call for action was similar: “In my view, the current situation is not acceptable and, if we cannot eliminate non-stunning, we need to keep it to the minimum. This means restricting the use of Halal and Kosher meat to those communities that require it for their religious beliefs, and where possible, convincing them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.”



For further comment or information contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal  at

Schedule 12 of The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (SI 731), which lays down provisions for slaughter by a religious method, additional to EU law.

The Guardian: Senior Vet condemns “unacceptable” slaughter of farm animals

Vetinary Record: Viewpoint: Slaughter without stunning, Bill Reilly

Religious Slaughter: Commons Library Standard Note

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