British poultry producers have welcomed Defra’s decision to halt the implementation of tough new EU rules on pre-slaughter stunning.
The department withdrew the European Commission’s Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing regulations on 16 May, days before they were set to be enshrined in law on 19 May.
The new rules would have required abattoirs to increase currents for stunning poultry to potentially lethal doses. This had been welcomed by animal welfare campaigners but concerned some halal producers, as birds need to be able to recover from stunning for the meat to comply with halal slaughter rules.
“We want to give it further consideration,” said a spokeswoman for Defra, adding it was a “complicated issue”.
The delay was a positive development for animal welfare, claimed British Poultry Council director of food policy, Richard Griffiths. “There were serious concerns over the halal status of stunned animals under these rules,” he said.
“Our fear was it would drive some producers outside our pro-stunning membership to non-stunning, which would bring a subsequent drop in welfare standards.”
However, while welcoming Defra’s change of heart, Griffiths added that it was “a shame” the regulations had been mothballed.
“The rest of the legislation is a good piece that promotes animal welfare and best practice regarding the training of staff,” he said.
The proposed changes to voltages were set to be challenged through a judicial review launched on behalf of 20 abattoir operators, the Halal Authority Board and the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS). AIMS policy director Norman Bagley said he believed Defra’s decision not to implement the new EU rules was directly connected to the judicial review.
“The claimants had already prepared official documents to issue proceedings in court, and we were set to hear about the next stage this week,” he said. “We will press on with the review in relation to V restrainers in sheep, but will also give Defra an opportunity to sit round the table. But I believe the stunning element relating to poultry is now dead in the water.”
However, the Defra spokeswoman insisted its decision “was not linked to the judicial review”.
She added ministers were considering how the rules would now be implemented in the UK, and were assessing the need for further consultation with Muslim community leaders.
Meanwhile, the British Veterinary Association said the withdrawal of the regulations provided opportunities to lobby the government on improving animal welfare. “Although it’s not yet clear why Defra delayed implementation, we hope to use this time to explore issues such as immediate post-cut stunning,” said BVA president Robin Hargreaves.
“However, it is important that Defra and the FSA [Food Standards Agency] can reassure consumers that any delay to the implementation will not result in any compromise in welfare at slaughter.”