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The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has criticised Defra over its decision not to include stunning parameters for poultry killed “in accordance with religious rites” in new slaughter regulations, which come into force in England today (5 November).

The BVA says there is a high risk that, if the parameters in electrical waterbath stunning are not correctly set, a percentage of birds may be immobilised rather than stunned, and therefore still conscious at the time of slaughter. This could cause avoidable animal suffering.

See also: Government has ‘no plans’ to end non-stun slaughter

EU animal welfare legislation includes rules on stunning, but these have not been included in the new Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) regulations for England, says the BVA.

It has therefore written to Defra seeking urgent clarification on how it will ensure all poultry are effectively stunned before slaughter – other than those that fall under the derogation for non-stun slaughter.

“In the last year we have seen headlines about the inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter. We are concerned that the omission of specific parameters for electrical waterbath stunning leaves some poultry vulnerable,” said BVA president Sean Wensley.

“This gap undermines the science the regulations are built upon. It is difficult to see how effective stunning can be assured for all poultry if parameters are not set when poultry are killed in accordance with religious rites.

“Slaughtermen, Official Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Officers in abattoirs are not able to tell the difference between birds that have been effectively stunned and those that are just electro-immobilised, thus compromising the animal welfare standards that these regulations are being put in place to protect.”

The BVA has welcomed other parts of the new rules, such as the requirement for large slaughterhouses to have an Animal Welfare Officer and the introduction of Certificates of Competence.