UK meat which has been slaughtered without being stunned beforehand should be banned from export.

According to animal welfare charity RSPCA, in recent years the number of animals slaughtered without stunning has been falling – but the proportion of those being exported to other countries has risen.

The RSPCA currently tolerates non-stun slaughter to serve the needs of the UK religious communities that require halal or kosher food, but it has drawn the line at using the practice to serve exports markets.

According to the Food Standards Agency there has been a significant reduction in the number of animals slaughtered without pre-stunning, from a predicted 94 million in 2018 to 25.4 million in 2022, but those destined for foreign shores is rising. Exports of non-stunned meat are now equivalent to 800,000 sheep per year.

Head of Public Affairs at the RSPCA, David Bowles, said: “We are pleased that the number of animals slaughtered without pre-stunning has dropped significantly since figures were last released four years ago.

“However, it is concerning to see that, based on predictions, nearly half a million animals are slaughtered without stunning every single week. We have long campaigned to bring an end to non-stun slaughter as a change in the law would make an enormous difference to the welfare of millions of farmed animals.

“We acknowledge that religious beliefs and practices should be respected. However, all animals should be treated humanely at the time of killing and therefore be stunned prior to slaughter as not doing so seriously compromises their welfare."

Scotland has very little if any non-stun slaughter in its abattoirs – the QMS Assurance Scheme Processor Standards behind the Scotch meat brands require that animals are stunned before slaughter – however a large proportion of Scotland’s sheep are sent to abattoirs in England. RSPCA is focusing its calls on the UK and Welsh Governments to ensure the export of non-stunned meat is banned.

The British Veterinary Association said: “Animals should be stunned before slaughter. While our long-term aim is to move towards an end to non-stun, we are calling for improved regulation of non-stun slaughter. The UK governments should take several pragmatic steps to ensure that supply of meat from non-stunned animals meets the demand of the religious communities the derogation in UK legislation is intended to serve.”

The Muslim community is split on the issue, with some accepting pre-stunning whilst others demand non-stunning. Figures from the Food Standards Agency in 2018 indicate that 58% of all halal meat in England was pre-stunned. However Shechita, which is the Jewish religious humane method of animal slaughter for food, does not accept pre-stunning.

The UK government, supported by the BVA, the NFU and others, has been working on a 'demonstration of life' (DoL) protocol designed to give Muslim consumers assurance that pre-stunned sheep and goats meet the religious requirements for halal meat.

The protocol has been designed to prove that animals rendered unconscious via effective head-only electrical stunning before slaughter are not killed by the stun itself – thereby qualifying them as halal.