Law creates more stress at slaughter for sheep, finds study

Legislation requiring the individual handling of sheep in non-stun slaughterhouses increases stress levels in animals, according to research presented at Tuesday’s Eblex Halal Seminar.

Speaking at the seminar in Warwickshire, Toby Knowles from the University of Bristol revealed the results of two studies that had been carried out for Eblex. The first of two major pieces of research showed that more stressful slaughter situations for sheep were being created by governmental law.

He explained: “We set up a commercial slaughterhouse in the way that they would normally handle sheep for non-stun slaughter, and measured the stress response of the sheep. Then we compared that with the stress response of a normal commercial stun. We found out that the legislation that requires the individual handling of sheep led to a more stressful situation.

“If the slaughterhouse had been able to handle the sheep as they would normally do for stun slaughter they would be less stressed. The slaughterhouse could accommodate that, but the legislation procludes it.”

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers’ (AIMS) Norman Bagley hailed the research as “first-class” and expressed annoyance that Defra was still persevering with the legislation.

He said: “It has proved conclusively that the bigger picture is: if you try and manually restrain sheep for 20 seconds, it caused infinitely larger animal welfare issues, whereas if you let them follow each other, which is their natural habitat, then you’re bound to have a better outcome.

“So why Defra continues to interpret this regulation the way they do, we don’t understand, and if they bring it forward again, like they brought it forward last time, then we’re going to have to see what the courts say about it.”

In Bristol University’s second piece of research for Eblex, a study looked into the reversibility of stunning. Minimum stunning currents have recently been increased by EU legislation, and Knowles aimed to find out whether sheep were still recoverable at these levels.

He said: “We went to the slaughterhouse and we looked at the new stunning current in use. We can look at whether there’s a heartbeat after, and with all the sheep that we looked at, in a commercial plant under commercial conditions using a constant current stunner, there was a heartbeat in every animal.”

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