VETS have reacted with horror to new figures confirming that the UK is slaughtering more sheep without stunning than is required to serve the domestic market for halal and kosher meat.

The British Veterinary Association has long campaigned for an end to the derogation allowing non-stun slaughter of livestock for religiously-motivated consumers, but pending a full ban has insisted that the derogation be strictly limited to just the number of animals needed to fulfill the needs of the core domestic market for meat produced in this way.

Now, following pressure from BVA and others, the Food Standards Agency has publicly released its 2018 slaughterhouse survey, which provides a comprehensive snapshot of slaughter methods by species in England and Wales, revealing that in 2018, over 94 million cattle, sheep and poultry were slaughtered without being stunned first.

Specifically, the figures show that nearly a quarter (24%) of sheep meat that was not stunned before slaughter was then exported from the UK. This equates to around 750,000 sheep being slaughtered without prior stunning per year for consumption outside of the domestic market, breaching the intention of the derogation that allows for non-stun slaughter for domestic religious consumers.

Although most of this meat is intended for EU markets including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, with post-Brexit trade deals currently in discussion, the BVA said the figures call into question where the remaining non-stun meat is sent. The survey also reveals what the BVA described as a 'lack of transparency' with regards to some exports – for example, 19% of sheep meat was recorded as destined for ‘unknown’ locations. This lack of information was referenced within the survey as being due to non-mandatory questions being left incomplete by abattoirs.

BVA president Simon Doherty, said: “The fact that nearly a quarter of non-stun sheep meat is being exported is highly significant, and we believe this goes against the spirit of the derogation that allows for non-stun slaughter purely for consumption by particular communities within the UK.

“It is equally concerning that the export of some non-stun meat is going unreported, with a lack of clarity around where 7% of non-stun sheep meat is ending up due to incomplete slaughterhouse data. While we’re pleased that the data has finally been made available thanks to joined-up work between the FSA and English and Welsh governments, clearly there is still a lot of work to do around ensuring that data is as robust and transparent as possible," said Mr Doherty.

“We strongly believe that all non-stun slaughter should be banned in the UK in the interests of reducing welfare harm. However, while it continues, the government must make moves to cease the export of non-stun meat," he said. "Allowing this practice is out of keeping with legislation designed to limit it to meet domestic demand only.”