'Welfare of animals at time of slaughter'a response from Dr Shuja Shafi following
22nd October 2009
Andy Coghlan [New Scientist, 17 October, p 11 ] appears to have made up his mind that stunning is the solution to the welfare problems associated with the slaughter of animals, yet he ignores some important facts that are published in the very journal volume he cites.
Troy Gibson and colleagues showed in a carefully controlled experiment that in two out of seven calves stunned, the process was ineffective, as demonstrated by periods of EEG activity - an indicator of cortical function [ New Zealand Veterinary Journal, vol 57, p 96 ] . Thus they demonstrated that stunning did not render those two calves completely insensible to any pain and distress.
This failure to render the two calves insensible to pain was attributed to either incorrect positioning of the stunner on the animals' heads, a deflected shot, or incorrect function of the stunner itself. It is well recognised that mis-stuns occur in practice, and that each instance compromises animal welfare. A frequency of up to 5 per cent is considered satisfactory, meaning that even if as many as 1 in 20 animals are mis-stunned, the slaughterhouse is still considered to be practising good animal welfare.
Even working on anaesthetised animals that are further immobilised by a purpose-designed head frame, Gibson's work showed an almost 30 per cent incidence of mis-stuns. This must surely raise concerns about the practicality of achieving the required level of accuracy and precision in a commercial environment.
The notion that stunning solves all animal welfare problems around slaughter is simply not true; stunning often creates more problems than it solves. A holistic approach is essential for realising the high standards of animal welfare we all endeavour to achieve. The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should, along with other relevant agencies such as the Food Standards Agency, evaluate this evidence objectively, understanding both the strengths and severe limitations of the work.
Dr Shuja Shafi
Chair, Food Standards Committee
Muslim Council of Britain
PO Box 57330,