lamb being mishandled© Animal Aid

Four slaughterman have had their operating licences suspended after hidden cameras exposed “horrific” mistreatment of animals at a Yorkshire abattoir.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched an investigation into the hidden footage at Bowood Lamb abattoir in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.

Animal rights group Animal Aid used hidden cameras to record working practices at the halal slaughterhouse over a three-day period in December.

See also: Non-stun slaughter e-petition hits 100,000 signatures

The group released video footage and stills, which apparently showed:

  • Sheep kicked in the face, smashed into solid objects headfirst and picked up and hurled by legs, fleeces, throats and ears
  • A worker standing on the neck of a conscious sheep, then bouncing up and down
  • Slaughterhouse workers erupting into laughter at a sheep bleeding to death with spectacles drawn around her eyes in green paint
  • A worker holding a sheep by her throat and pulling back a fist as if to punch her
  • Slaughtermen taunting and frightening sheep by waving knives, smacking them on the head and shouting at them.

Watch the Youtube video by Animal Aid. Warning – the video footage contains distressing images.

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During the course of its investigation, Animal Aid said it uncovered a “remarkable weakness” in the application of the halal code.

Under the halal code, animals are supposed to die quickly after a “single cut with a surgically sharp knife”.

However, Animal Aid said it filmed one slaughterer hacking away at sheep’s throats, taking as many as five attempts to sever the blood vessels.

Halal monitoring bodies typically require that prayers should be said while animals are killed.

At Bowood, Animal Aid said there were no prayers but the radio blared out pop music, including Christmas songs.

Halal meat should also come from animals that have not seen the knife, or other animals being killed.

But at this slaughterhouse, animals were “routinely” immobilised on the conveyor while the slaughterer sharpened his knife and other sheep bled to death in front of them, the charity said.

In addition, while the law demands that sheep who have not been stunned remain in position for at least 20 seconds after their throats are cut – to ensure they are no longer conscious – 86% of sheep at Bowood were “shunted off” the end of the conveyor before that time had elapsed, some in as little as one second and while their heads were up and they looked around, the charity claimed.

However, Jamie Foster, solicitor for Bowood Lamb, denied that the alleged abuse of sheep at Bowood was “routine”.

He told BBC’s Farming Today programme, that one employee had been fired and the company, which is owned by father and son Robert and William Woodward, took animal welfare extremely seriously.

“We have very limited access to the footage … but clearly the piece we saw which involved a slaughterman standing on the neck of a sheep was something that fell far below the standards that Bowood would find acceptable and that individual was immediately dismissed for gross misconduct.”

 The Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides operating licences and carries out inspections of slaughterhouses.

It said in a statement: “The FSA takes animal welfare at abattoirs very seriously, which is why we immediately suspended the licences of the slaughtermen involved.

“There is no excuse for treating animals in the way shown on the video and we are therefore investigating the footage with a view to prosecution.

“We are also continuing to investigate all the circumstances around the incident to ensure proper safeguards are introduced to stop this happening in the future.”

Animal Aid has called for the installation of compulsory CCTV in all slaughterhouses.

An e-petition, launched by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and backed by the RSPCA, calling for an end to non-stun slaughter has gathered more than 105,000 signatures.

The e-petition, which is backed by comedian Ricky Gervais, actress Sadie Frost and Queen guitarist Brian May, aims to trigger a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Last year, halal and kosher abattoirs collectively killed 2.4 million sheep and goats without being stunned, according to the BVA.