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Religious slaughter

Current UK law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter, so they don't feel pain. However, Jewish and Muslim communities aren't required by law to stun animals before slaughter. All Shechita (Jewish) and some Halal (Muslim) slaughter involves cutting the animal's throat without stunning them first. 

Stunning animals before slaughter

Pre-stunning ensures that an animal is unconscious and cannot feel pain before slaughter up until the point of death. Animals that haven't been pre-stunned:

  • Feel pain during the neck cutting process and up until they lose consciousness (through loss of blood)
  • Experience a delay in loss of consciousness (e.g. up to two minutes in cattle)
  • Are subjected to unnecessary pain, suffering and distress.

Current UK law requires all livestock to be stunned before slaughter, so they don't feel pain at the time of killing. However, there is an exemption from this requirement that permits non-stun slaughter for religious purposes - to meet the demand of Muslim and Jewish communities.

Why animals need to be pre-stunned

An animal killed without being stunned will only lose consciousness after prolonged blood loss. This results in a distressing and painful death for the animal

  • Animals not stunned first need a higher level of restraint than standard slaughter methods
  • A large cut made across the neck of awake animals would "result in significant pain and distress". They would be in this pain until they passed out. It would take around 5 to 7 seconds for sheep and 22 to 40 seconds for adult cattle to pass out from the cut.
  • Slaughter without pre-stunning is cruel and the Government should repeal the current law exemption.

Number of non-stun animals slaughtered

The latest Food Standards Agency figures show an estimated 24.5 million animals will be slaughtered without pre-stunning in 2022:

  • 22 million meat chickens (2.3% of total slaughtered)
  • 2.7 million sheep (22.6% of total slaughtered)
  • 24,000 cattle (0.9% of total slaughtered)

The UK government doesn't have a legal requirement to ensure all animals are stunned before slaughter. 

  • Around 65% of animals slaughtered in the UK for Halal are stunned first.
  • All animals slaughtered under the Shechita (for Kosher) are non-stunned.

Exported and rejected non-stunned meat

A proportion of products from animals slaughtered without prior stunning were exported (5% of chickens, 32% of sheep) therefore not meeting the legal requirement for serving only the local (UK) demand for these products.

51% of cattle carcases and 43% of sheep carcases slaughtered via the Shechita method were rejected as non-Kosher, it's unclear what happens to the meat from these animals which haven't been stunned prior to slaughter and don't meet the requirements for their religious communities, they may end up in the mainstream food chain highlighting the legal need for clear labelling. This high level of rejection also means more animals must be slaughtered by this method to meet the demand and needs further investigation.

What we're doing about non-stun slaughter

We believe that all animals should be stunned before slaughter. Evidence shows that slaughter without pre-stunning can cause unneeded suffering.

We oppose the slaughter of any animal without first ensuring it's unable to feel pain and distress.

We're pressing for law changes to improve animal welfare at slaughter. Until this happens, we propose:

  • UK Jewish and Muslim communities review their slaughter practices
  • Meat produced from animals not stunned before slaughter should be clearly labelled to allow consumer choice

We're working to improve the lives of animals at the time of slaughter. Read our joint statement of principles on animal slaughter.

Find out more