The British Veterinary Association has renewed calls for compulsory labelling of all meat killed through halal and kosher slaughter.
The BVA said kosher and halal meat that is not pre-stunned should be clearly labelled as such to allow consumers to make informed choices about the meat they buy.
The association is concerned that meat from non-stun slaughter is entering the market unlabelled because there is no requirement to label meat and meat products with the method of slaughter.
The calls came as supermarkets, including Tesco and Marks & Spencers, confirmed that they were selling halal lamb imported from New Zealand without stating whether the meat was produced from animals stunned or not stunned before slaughter.
Last week, the BVA launched an e-petition, supported by the RSPCA, calling for an end to slaughter without pre-stunning . It has received more than 22,000 signatures to date.
BVA president and veterinary surgeon Robin Hargreaves said: “BVA has long believed that slaughter without pre-stunning unnecessarily compromise animal welfare at the time of death. It affects millions of animals every year and action is long overdue.”
David Bowles, RSPCA head of public affairs, added: “We are supporting the BVA’s petition calling for an end to non-stun slaughter because it is a practice that can cause suffering to millions of farm animals in the UK.
“We recognise that religious belief and practices should be respected but we also believe that animals should be slaughtered in the most humane way possible.
“Non-stun slaughter can result in the animals experiencing very significant pain and distress and that is why we feel more needs to be done to end this suffering.”
Religious leaders have also backed calls for clearer labelling of meat sold in supermarkets and restaurants.
But in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on Thursday (8 May), Henry Grunwald, chairman of Jewish body Shechita and Dr Shuja Shafi, Muslim Council of Britain deputy chairman, defended the right to religious slaughter of animals for their meat in the UK.
They agreed, however, that meat labels need to clear whether animals had been stunned before slaughter.
“They should also be told the method of slaughter: captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping, clubbing or any of the other approved methods,” the letter said.
“Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike.
“It would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.”
DEFRA said it had contributed to an EU study into compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat and would review the options for the UK once it is finalised this summer.
“We want people to have the information they need to make informed choices about the food they buy,” said a DEFRA spokesman.
Earlier this year, Denmark banned halal and kosher slaughter on animal welfare grounds.
But the UK government said it had no plans to ban the religious slaughter of animals for their meat.
“There are strict laws in place to ensure welfare standards are met during slaughter,” added the DEFRA spokesman.
“Although we would prefer animals to be stunned before slaughter, we respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat in accordance with their beliefs. The government has no intention of banning religious slaughter.”