On Tuesday 25th February 2014 the HFF attended the Public Policy Exchange symposium on ‘Raising Animal Welfare Standards at the Time of Slaughter or Killing’. Set up to promote policy, discussion debate and networking, the event was comprised of a variety of delegates from various facets of the meat, farming and animal welfare industries including: Shechita UK, Animal-i, Compassion in World Farming, Meat and Livestock Commercial Services Ltd, Halal Food Authority, MSD Animal Health and a host of others.

The day began with a speech and discussion chaired by Neil Parish MP (chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare). Mr Parish was keen to highlight his affinity with farming and animal welfare throughout his speech and debate; he made clear to inform us that his opinion is his own and not necessarily that of the wider government. Parish maintains the opinion that there should be as much stunning as possible so that animals die with the least pain possible – ‘an animal doesn’t have a religion’ Mr Parish exclaimed, ‘it is raised under welfare standards’. If stunning cannot be done before the cut (in regards to religious slaughter), he says, the government and other organisations need to see if this can be done post-cut (i.e. cut the animal and then stun immediately after).

The issue of stunning became a prevalent topic of discussion throughout the symposium; whilst some feel as though stunned / non-stunned products should be clearly labelled, many maintained that in doing so would increase the number of un-stunned animals in the Muslim community as, in the words of Asif Rao, Technical Manager at Craven Arms Islamic Centre, ‘the majority of the Muslim community are not in favour of stunning – it is an unwilling acceptance’. Schechita UK however, countered this and stated that the Jewish Community would be in favour of all labelling as they request a label on all products to deem it kosher (whether this be fruit, vegetables, drinks, cereal or meat).

Whether meat / meat derived products have come from an animal that has been stunned or not is a major issue of contention within the UK – and not just in the Muslim / Jewish communities; it is a topic that the wider echelons of society are concerned with also. Phil Malone, Director of Animal-i, was very forthright in his assertion that the government need not invest millions of pounds in labelling products ‘stunned’ and ‘un-stunned’ but that animal welfare standards would be improved immensely if the industry itself was invested in. ‘Training, training, training’ were the key facets he outlined as paramount in improving animal welfare standards – with education comes understanding, and with understanding comes better practice.

 Following continued debate, a break for lunch and some time for the delegates to network and discuss thoughts, attitudes and the new WATOK regulations further, the day ended with Kate Fowler, Head of Campaigns at Animal Aid taking the floor to talk to us why CCTV in slaughterhouses should be the norm nationwide.

Between January 2009 – April 2010, Animal Aid filmed secretly inside seven English Red meat slaughterhouses, with the exception of just ONE establishment, distressing scenes were exhibited on all of the premises (these included animals being kicked in the face, slapped, stamped on, forcibly thrown into stunning pens, ewes being stunned while lambs suckled them, pigs being burnt with cigarettes, animals being stood on to keep them still whilst stunning etc).

When they began their filming and collating of information, Animal Aid had no idea of what they would find – they simply aimed to record what took place in a typical UK slaughterhouse and make this information readily available to the public. The slaughterhouses that were filmed in were, according to Fowler, picked entirely at random and the filming was done covertly so that a ‘typical day’ could be observed – a ‘fly on the wall exposé’ of sorts.

Outcomes of the investigation to date we are told include the suspension of nine men and the revoking of their slaughter licences, Sainsbury’s suspending its contract with one of the slaughterhouses in breach of animal welfare guidelines, one of the slaughterhouses was forced to close following lack of business, industry, government agencies and veterinary bodies are now taking part in ongoing discussions about how to implement changes and improve animal welfare standards in slaughterhouses, the RSPCA, Soil Association, Compassion in World Farming and the government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) now all support Animal Aid’s call to have CCTV installed in UK slaughterhouses.

Public Policy Exchange provided us with a great day which not only informed and educated but provided a great platform for discussion, debate and forging professional relationships. With more events like these and the coming together of a variety of professionals whose careers, ethos’, aspirations, objectives and goals overlap, the industry can only go from strength to strength. 

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