IMG_1184Most people wheeling their trolley around the supermarket meat counter do not want to think about the slaughter process that preceded their steak being laid on a polystyrene tray and wrapped in cling film.

And yet there are, quite rightly, strictly enforced laws governing the welfare of animals being transported to the abattoir and in the lead up to slaughter to ensure that this is conducted in a way that minimises the suffering of the animals.

Recently the stunning of animals at the time of slaughter has become a hotly debated issue evoking strong opinions on either side of the argument.

The aim of stunning is to render the animal unconscious and insensible to pain prior to killing. It is the view of the British Veterinary Association, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, the RSPCA and the Humane Slaughter Association that all animals should be pre-stunned.

Some organisations believe, on religious grounds, that animals should be killed without pre-stunning. Some reports have suggested that mis-stunning occurs in large numbers causing a greater welfare problem than slaughter without stunning, quoting figures of 9-31% from a Europe-wide Efsa report in 2004.

New figures reveal that in 2013 there were only 9 reported incidents of mis-stunning in cattle (0.0004% of cattle slaughtered) and 3 reports in sheep (0.00002%). These reports are made by Official Veterinarians working in abattoirs and collated by the Food Standards Agency on behalf of Defra.

These new official figures reveal that mis-stunning is extremely rare in British abattoirs and seriously call into question claims that mis-stunning is a greater animal welfare problem than non-stun slaughter.

Of course any incident of mis-stunning must be acted upon and legislation is in place to ensure that mis-stunned animals are immediately re-stunned to render them unconscious. Each incident is recorded and immediate and appropriate action is taken to address any problems.

It is essential that the debate takes place with all of the facts. It is also essential that food should be appropriately labelled so that we know if our meat has come from a pre-stunned animal or not. In my opinion, this labelling should extend to takeaway food, school lunches, hospital food etc. Only then can we make an informed decision about what we are putting on our fork.

This is an unglamorous area and one which many of us would rather not think about but as a veterinary surgeon, my number one priority is animal welfare and that is why it is essential that we strive to prevent any unnecessary compromises in welfare at the time of slaughter.