Some 15% of sheep and goats in Great Britain are slaughtered without being stunned, a Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey into animal welfare in slaughterhouses has suggested.
The survey, undertaken by the FSA between 16 and 22 September 2013, provides a snapshot of activity over a typical week in Great Britain, with assessments taken by official veterinarians at 232 red meat slaughterhouses and 69 white meat slaughterhouses.
A total of 295,500 sheep and goats were slaughtered at 174 establishments during the week of the survey, of which 41% (or 121,472) were killed in accordance with halal rules. Of those that were slaughtered halal, 37% (44,950) were killed without stunning.
The FSA said this was equivalent to 15% of sheep and goats slaughtered in Britain not being stunned before slaughter.
The proportion of non-stunned slaughter was far smaller for cattle and poultry, with just 2% of cattle killed without stunning and 3% of poultry.
In a previous survey, conducted in 2011, the FSA found that 10% of sheep and goats, 3% of cattle and 4% of poultry in Britain were being slaughtered without being stunned.
However, the regulator stressed the results of the surveys were not directly comparable because they referred to different datasets and had different sample sizes.
Stunning has become an increasingly controversial subject in the meat industry and with consumers, and a major report into whether the stunning status of meat should be stated on on-pack labels is expected to be published by the European Commission this spring.
Defra halted the implementation of tough new EU rules on pre-slaughter stunning last May, which would have seen stunning voltages increased to potentially lethal - and therefore non-halal-compliant - doses.
Interpretations on whether pre-slaughter stunning is allowed under halal rules vary within the Muslim community, with some halal certification bodies allowing the practice and others specifically prohibiting it.
Overall, the FSA survey suggested animal welfare in British slaughterhouses had improved since the 2011 survey. Some 96% of red meat slaughterhouses and 96% of white meat slaughterhouses were compliant with animal welfare regulations, it said, compared with 86% and 84% respectively in 2011.
However, it warned that while there had been “positive shifts in compliance, there are still areas where improvements are required,” including more widespread use of CCTV.