Both the Jewish and Muslim religions have traditionally demanded that slaughter is carried out with a single cut to the throat, rather than the more widespread method of stunning with a bolt into the head before slaughter.

The Jewish method of slaughter, shechita, does not permit stunning as Jewish religious tradition dictates animals intended for food must be healthy and uninjured at the time of slaughter. According to the Food Standards Agency, 2.9 million animals were killed by kosher slaughter in 2018.

Islamic food rules for halal meat can be satisfied with animals stunned before slaughter if animals do not die as a result of the stun. In fact, the majority of animals killed by the halal method are stunned beforehand. However, there is no definitive consensus and slaughter without pre-stunning does also take place.

In 2018 218 million animals killed by halal slaughter. 58% animals were pre-stunned in line with EU parameters, while 42% were not pre-stunned or were poultry that were ineffectively stunned, according to the Food Standards Agency.

The scientific consensus is clear that it is more humane to stun an animal prior to slaughter than not to do so. The slaughter of animals without pre-stunning is permitted in the UK despite a recommendation by the Government's own advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), that the practice should be banned. The FAWC have concluded that animals slaughtered without pre-stunning are likely to experience "very significant pain and distress" before they become unconscious.

The EU's Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) have stated that: "Due to the serious animal welfare concerns associated with slaughter without stunning, pre-cut stunning should always be performed."

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) have stated: "FVE is of the opinion that the practice of slaughtering animals without prior stunning is unacceptable under any circumstances"

RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British Veterinary Association all support an end to non-stun slaughter to improve animal welfare at the time of death.

Over 94 million farm animals were slaughtered without pre-stunning for halal and kosher meat in 2018, according to the Food Standards Agency. This included 25% sheep, 10% broiler chickens, 8% goats and 1% cattle slaughtered overall.

But it is getting harder to monitor non-stun slaughter figures. In 2020 the NSS discovered that the FSA has stopped publishing non-stun slaughter figures.

All animals currently slaughtered in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are being stunned before slaughter.

Yes. Whilst we support the right to religious freedom, we do not think that exemptions should be made on religious grounds to animal welfare regulations which apply without exception to everyone else.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights does provide for a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion which includes the freedom to manifest a religion or belief in practice and observance. However, this aspect of Article 9 is a qualified right, which means that an interference with the right can be justified in certain circumstances. We maintain that the welfare of animals provides such a justification.

Yes. Slaughter without any form of stunning during the slaughter process is banned in:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Greece*
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein*
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • New Zealand*
  • Norway
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland*

Laws regarding whether the animal should be stunned before or after their throats are cut vary in these countries. More detailed information is available here.

All animals currently slaughtered in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are being stunned before slaughter.

*= Except poultry

The Government has said it would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but supports the exemption as it recognises the preferences of the Jewish and Muslim communities and accepts the importance which they attach to the right to slaughter animals for food in accordance with their beliefs.

Regulation 1099/2009 which builds on previous Regulation 93/119 states that "provisions applicable to religious slaughter have been transposed differently depending on national contexts...". The RSPCA interpret this to mean national context should mean the domestic market, and not include the import requirements of another member state or a third country market. Despite this, 24% of the meat from the 3.1 million sheep slaughtered without stunning is being exported.

Various organisations certify religiously-slaughtered meat. Some are registered charities, including London Board for Shechita and Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC).

HMC has been criticised by some halal suppliers by putting them under pressure by pushing the message that only non-stunned meat is "genuinely Halal". Because halal suppliers fear losing the trust of their customers, they can feel forced to switch to unstunned halal meat and pay thousands of pounds for HMC certification.

One experienced halal trader stated in a 2011 BBC interview that HMC are "really hammering the halal industry" and that "they're nothing but a scam."

Advocates of religious slaughter often accuse its detractors of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry in an attempt to shut down all argument. We are mindful of occasional prejudice based hysteria around halal food. Our opposition to slaughter without pre-stunning has nothing to do with religious prejudice.

Many Muslims and Jews support pre-stun slaughter on animal welfare grounds. Some halal brands make a conscious choice to only use meat from stunned animals due to animal welfare concerns. For example, halal supplier Najma states on its website: "We follow the Islamic values of treating all animals with kindness and compassion. To ensure the welfare of the animals, we do use recoverable stunning prior to slaughter."

Our objection to non-stun slaughter is based on about upholding the important principle of 'one law for all' and ensuring that animals do not suffer unnecessarily and become the victims of religious privilege.

Unfortunately not. There is no requirement under UK or EU law for the meat from animals slaughtered without stunning to be labelled as such. As a result, non-stun slaughtered meat is routinely being sold on the general market to unwitting members of the public.

Some parts of animals killed by Jewish ritual slaughter methods are not themselves regarded as kosher, and are therefore sold on the general market unlabelled. In 2018 90,000 of the 2.9 million non-stunned animals slaughtered for kosher-certified meat were rejected as unfit for religious consumption and went into the general market unlabelled.

Some Sikhs, Christians and Hindus believe that they must not consume meat slaughtered according to Muslim or Jewish rights. The prevalence of meat slaughtered by Jewish and Muslim methods without labelling impedes their own religious freedom.

An investigation by NSS in 2018 revealed that that around one in 12 councils provide non-stunned halal meat for school meals, reaching thousands of children across Britain. In many of these schools, there is no separate meat option for children who do not want to eat non-stunned meat. They must have a vegetarian meal instead.

A November 2018 investigation by The Times found that in several cases, schools providing only non-stunned halal meat were not informing parents of the nature of the meat and how it was slaughtered.

As long as religious groups retain the privilege of an exemption from legislation that permits slaughter without pre-stunning, we maintain it is only fair that consumers have the right to information that enables them to avoid such products if they so wish.