UK VETS want to see an end to exports of meat produced by non-stun slaughter, arguing that any continued use of 'religious' slaughter methods should be strictly confined to the quantity needed to serve the UK's own minority consumers.

Speaking at the annual gathering of the British Veterinary Association's Scottish branch at the Holyrood parliament, BVA president Simon Doherty said that the issue of animal welfare at slaughter was a top concern for his members, and it would continue to campaign at the 'highest political levels' to have non-stun slaughter banned outright.

"In March, we talked through this important and sensitive issue with Defra minister Michael Gove, and most recently I represented BVA at a special roundtable event convened by the UK Government to give all interested parties a say in next steps.

"While we will continue to favour an end to non-stun slaughter, we are also shifting our focus to pragmatic asks where we think there is definite scope for movement," he explained. "This includes pushing for clearer slaughter method labelling, to give consumers more informed choices about the meat they buy, and calling for an end to the export of non-stun meat from the UK. We are pleased that the UK government appears to be listening and open to considering what changes can be made."

Mr Doherty noted that there was currently no non-stun slaughter carried out in Scotland, but stressed that consumers can be most confident in the welfare provenance of animal products they buy if they choose those covered by farm assurance schemes: "These do not permit non-stun slaughter and are the best indicator of veterinary involvement, environmental protection and high welfare across the production process," he said.

However, while there are no non-stun slaughter lines in Scotland, a significant proportion of Scottish sheep are sent south of the border for religious slaughter and subsequent chilled despatch to markets overseas. Some Scottish industry pundits fear that the loss of that market would be 'another nail in the coffin' of a sector already struggling to make viable returns.

Speaking from the National Sheep Association, chief executive Phil Stocker stressed that his organisation believed that stunning animals before slaughter was 'best practice', but recognised that a proportion of some religious faiths insisted on slaughter without stunning.

"There are immediate and practical ways for the Government to reduce this demand for non-stun product and NSA has long been urging that these steps be taken in preference to a knee-jerk reaction to ban the practice," said Mr Stocker. "Everyone involved in public discussions about welfare at slaughter should be aware of unintended consequences. For example, misinformed discussions about halal in the past have increased demand for non-stun product, not reduced it, and a labelling scheme that does not consider the complexities of different retail outlets could also have the potential to increase demand."

One key step promoted by the NSA is that of allowing processors to demonstrate 'recoverable stun', in front of representatives from Muslim communities, to reassure them that, in line with religious requirements, it is the blood-letting that kills the animal rather than the stun. In other countries, such demonstrations had reduced demand for non-stun product.