Vets back consumer call for clear labelling of non-stun meat

By John Blackwell, President, British Veterinary Assciation

The British are recognised for being a nation of animal lovers.

The United Kingdom has also in recent years gained a reputation for great food with strong sustainability and provenance. These two things – compassion for animals and sustainable food – go hand-in-hand.

As SRA President, Raymond Blanc, wrote to his fellow chefs and restaurateurs, sourcing food matters. For restaurants serving meat and fish, this sourcing must include the welfare of production animals. British meat has an enviable reputation for its quality, including the some of the highest standards of welfare for farm animals. And this welfare is not just about a perfect image of cows grazing in a green and pleasant British field. It’s about the best and most humane care at every step of their lives. Including the way they are slaughtered.

I first stepped into an abattoir almost 30 years ago. It’s part of our training as veterinary undergraduates, an important part underpinning the veterinary surgeon’s role in public health and animal welfare. On graduation, we take an oath “to ensure the welfare of animals committed to my care”. That care extends to every stage of an animal’s life and includes the end of their life. We have a choice between a non-stunned animal experiencing five or six seconds of pain where they will feel the massive injury to the tissues of the neck and perceive the aspiration of blood they breathe in before they lose consciousness. Or a correctly stunned animal that is insensible to pain at the time that it is slaughtered.

This commitment to the welfare of these animals is the impetus behind the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) campaign to end non-stun slaughter in the UK. In a recent survey of BVA members, their top priority for the new Government was requiring all animals to be stunned before slaughter. And consumers agree with us. A European Commission report of 13,500 meat consumers across 27 EU Member States found 72% want information about the stunning of animals when buying meat.

This EU-wide report confirms that consumers are interested in the provenance of their meat and meat products, with a clear majority saying they are interested in receiving information about the stunning of animals.

Non-stun slaughter is only permitted through a derogation from EU-wide legislation for certain religious groups. Consumers rightly expect their meat has been killed in accordance with the law, which clearly states that all animals should be stunned prior to slaughter to ensure their welfare is not compromised. That is why BVA remains absolutely clear that better and clearer consumer information is essential, allowing those 72% to make an informed choice.

Restaurants who take pride in the food they serve, its provenance and quality, and who want to reassure their caring customers that the meat on their plate is of the very highest standard – including the way in which the animal bred for consumption was killed – should source their meat from a stun abattoir and tell customers that they can have absolute confidence that they are enjoying meat from animals treated with the utmost humaneness in life and death.

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