By Amro Hussain, Senior Public Affairs Lead at The Humane League UK
Animal welfare is a cause close to the hearts of many members of the British public. According to research by the Food Ethics Council, 73% of us support high animal welfare standards. This can be doubly the case for those in hospitality, who value the quality of their ingredients and have a particular interest in the lives of the animals in their supply chains.
Fish are a much neglected part of discussions on animal welfare. They are the second most farmed animal in the country, with up to 86 million slaughtered each year – that’s more than turkeys, sheep, cows, ducks, and pigs combined. Only chickens are farmed in greater numbers.
Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout are the main species of fish farmed in the UK and appear on many restaurant menus. However, despite the widespread farming of these animals, they are neglected by the law. As the scientific consensus on fish sentience has strengthened, the law hasn’t followed, leaving fish with unequal legal protections at slaughter compared to other animals. There are no detailed legal requirements on how to stun and kill farmed fish with minimal pain, no suggested calibration for the machinery, no oversight of the slaughterhouses and no legal enforcement mechanism to punish producers who abuse welfare standards.
Right now, the industry entirely regulates itself. While some producers are signed up to industry codes of conduct (though millions of trout are not covered even by this), and generally practice stunning, this is not subject to external oversight and producers are not accountable to the law. Undercover investigations have uncovered the results – cruelly botched slaughters, animals repeatedly clubbed, having their gills cut while conscious, or being left to suffocate. We protect animal welfare at slaughter with all other animals, so why not the millions of fish we farm?
This is why The Humane League UK has launched the Forgotten Fish campaign to request that the government give farmed fish legal protections at slaughter. This will mean more inspections of welfare at slaughterhouses, legal requirements to effectively calibrate stunning equipment, and the ability to hold producers who abuse animals accountable.
In some ways this is a small ask – it will not require new legislation, simply for the Government to update existing laws. But in other ways it is huge – it would finally give fish protections which fit with their status in law as sentient beings and mitigate against cases of abuse and negligence in slaughterhouses.
To get the Government to take this seriously industry support is key. Members of the Sustainable Restaurant Association can do much to transform the demands of this campaign into a reality.
Call to action
When you order farmed fish to your restaurant or business right now, you’re ordering from slaughterhouses with little to no third party auditing. Conscious business owners, farmers and members of the public can all agree that fish welfare at slaughter should be more tightly regulated.
By supporting this campaign you can help protect the welfare of millions of animals, and celebrate that fact as both businesses and as people. The British public want better animal welfare, and you can help deliver that for your customers. If you want to help, please sign our petition and get in touch with The Humane League UK to see how we can work together.