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Humanists UK responds to consultation on animal welfare

Take action! You can respond to the consultation online, and read our response to help draft your own. The deadline for responding to the consultation is Wednesday 31 January 2018.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has launched a public consultation on the terms of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. The Bill aims to enshine the principle that animals are sentient beings into UK domestic law and increases the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years in prison for offenders in England and Wales. Humanists UK, which has campaigned against religious exemptions to animal welfare laws, has responded to the consultation arguing that the Bill should explicitly make reference to the need to pre-stun animals before slaughter as part of the duty to protect animals from pain and suffering.

The consultation questions whether the term ‘welfare needs of animals’ should be defined in the Bill, and if so what should constitute these needs. In its response to the consultation, Humanists UK argues that the list of needs should include a duty to protect animals from unnecessary pain and suffering at the time of slaughter. This would mean that the use of stunning before a fatal wound is inflicted would become part of the definition of animal welfare. This is recommended by several animal welfare organisations including the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and even the Government’s own Farm Animal Welfare Committee.

Currently, UK regulations on the welfare of animals at the time of slaughter specify that all animals must be stunned prior to slaughter. However, religious exemptions allow animals to be slaughtered without pre-stunning to provide halal and kosher (or shechita) meat for Muslims and Jews. This process involves opening the animal’s throat with a knife and allowing the animal to slowly die from blood loss, whilst being fully conscious and sensible to pain and distress. It is thought that around 25% of sheep and goats are slaughtered in this way and 20% of poultry, far in excess of the number required by adherents to these religions.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘The current legal approach to religious slaughter is incoherent. The fact that this Bill is being proposed attests to the fact that there is a well-established consensus, reflected in our laws on slaughter, animal cruelty and hunting, that there is a collective standard of welfare applied to animals, below which it is both a crime and an cruelty to subject them to. Those laws make pre-stunning a requirement before slaughter because it is deemed to be part of the needs of the animal, placing its welfare as prime consideration.

‘That consideration does not change for an animal subjected to religious slaughter. In terms of the suffering experienced by the animal at the point of non-stunned slaughter, there is no qualitative or quantitative difference if it is carried out by someone with specific religious convictions or not. The exceptions from this standard cannot be justified. This Bill is a rare opportunity for the Government to rationalise this incoherent approach to animal welfare, by clearly defining pre-stunning as a welfare need.’


For further comment or information contact Rachel Taggart-Ryan, Campaigns Officer at or 020 7324 3065.

Respond to the consultation here:

Read Humanists UK’s response here:

Read more on our campaigns on animal welfare:

We support the reduction of animal suffering resulting from human behaviour and see compassionate attitudes to animal suffering as a hallmark of a humane society. As we wish to reduce suffering, humanists are concerned about the treatment of food animals, both during their lives and when they are slaughtered. Pre-stunning is mandated by law but there are exemptions for religious groups to provide kosher (or shechita) and halal meat. We believe these exemptions should end, and we note that there is in fact widespread certification of meat as halal with pre-stunning. If the exemptions enabling religious slaughter are not brought to an end, then we think at the very least rules should be introduced requiring all such meat to be labelled clearly so that consumers can choose to avoid it.

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and campaigning work, we’re committed to creating a fair and equal society for all.

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