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FAQs - Halal chicken slaughter

What’s the issue?

Chickens slaughtered for Halal meat are not being stunned effectively.

Instead of being rendered instantly unconscious when stunned, they will be receiving a painful electric shock that immobilises them before being slaughtered whilst fully conscious.

Chickens are immobilised, meaning they are unable to move, but still aware of what is happening to them and are able to feel pain, when their throat is cut. 

The workings of the Taser gun are an example of electro-immobilisation.

How long has this been known?

This issue came to light on the 20th May 2014 when DEFRA failed to implement WATOK (Welfare At The Time of Killing). The EU Regulation which came into effect on 1 January 2013, stipulates currents for water-bath stunning that should ensure an effective stun, so that the chicken will remain unconscious long enough for his/her throat to be slit.

WATOK would have allowed Defra to enforce revised EU rules on the welfare of animals at slaughter in the UK that help ensure animals are effectively stunned. Existing legislation (WASK) doesn’t include that specified parameters for slaughter need to be met.

We previously believed that the government would ensure animals were stunned with parameters that should be effective and with the enforcement of a Veterinary Officer in slaughterhouses. However nearing the time of new EU law designed to ensure animal welfare at slaughter we became aware that this might not be the case.

Through further investigation we were informed of the parameters used and now know these don’t meet the law and won’t effectively stun.

What did Defra know: Defra were aware that current Halal stunned chicken did not meet the legal requirements set out in the EU legislation that came into force in January 2013.

We are calling for an urgent explanation from DEFRA of their plans to enforce the regulation.

How are the chickens stunned for Halal meat being slaughtered?

Chickens stunned before being slaughtered by the Halal method are hung upside-down by metal shackles around their legs and then pass through an electrified water-bath to be stunned before they are killed by a cut to the throat. A prayer is said before the bird’s throat is cut.

A sufficient current must be delivered to the brain to cause unconsciousness in the chicken. The stun and unconsciousness are as instantaneous as they can be. The depth and duration of unconsciousness depends on the amount and frequency of current in the water-bath.

EU legislation states the current in the water-bath should be 200 milliamps (current) at 400 to 1,500 hertz (frequency) and the stun must be effective.

In reality, we are now aware that the current used is around a quarter of the required 200 milliamps. This means chickens will be immobilised by a painful electric shock before being slaughtered whilst fully conscious.

Is this the same as conventional stunning?

It is the same as conventional water-bath stunning. We don’t have exact figures but we believe that pretty much only Halal stunning of chicken uses water-baths now. The move has been to gas-stunning in the rest of the industry (RSPCA Freedom Food allow water-bath stunning in their regulations until 2016 when it will be banned).

What are the conventional slaughter methods for chickens?

The killing of chicken in a slaughterhouse may be by several different methods. The birds may be killed by a water-bath and throat cut, which is described above or gas stunning using either CO2 or inert gases which stuns the animals and kills them before throat cutting.

If chickens are killed under the derogation for religious slaughter then they may be killed with a cut to the throat without any prior stunning.

How does the current and frequency affect whether the chicken is unconscious?

There is a wide variety in the frequencies (Hz [hertz]) used and the amount of current (milliamps [mA]) applied to individual birds in the water-bath.

Electrical stunning works in two ways, affecting the brain and the heart. A high current (mAmps) and low frequently (Hz) will stop the heart and disrupt the brain, inducing unconsciousness. This combination will kill the chicken even before their throat is cut.

The position of the Halal Food Authorities and the responsibility it assumes for the Muslim communities it represents means that to be classified as Halal, chickens must still be alive when their throat is cut so the use of high currents that will stop the heart is not desirable.

Using a lower frequency ensures that chickens are stunned effectively. At frequencies higher than 800Hz, research suggests that fewer birds will be stunned effectively and this would lead to birds suffering an electric shock that immobilises, similar to the situation they are currently in.

EU legislation recommends a current of at least 200 mAmps at 400 – 1,500 Hz. 

However at frequencies higher than 600/800 Hz, there is a risk of some birds not being effectively stunned as the current is not high enough.

Therefore, Compassion believes there are issues with the legislation as it stands if birds are stunned using very high frequencies with only 200mA.

However, we understand that the requirements of EU legislation for currents at higher frequencies are not being followed as there are issues with the quality of the meat (birds’ wings may be singed with such high frequencies therefore reducing its value). There are also issues with the slaughterhouses being able to able to deliver the higher currents and frequencies as well as the cost of installing new equipment to enable them to do so.

How many chickens are slaughtered for Halal are ‘stunned’ and how many are not stunned?

Approximately 220 million chickens were slaughtered by Halal methods in the UK last year. The majority of these would have been immobilised rather than effectively stunned. This ineffective stunning will continue to affect the 26-30% of chickens produced in the UK that are slaughtered under Halal certification unless EU legislation is effectively enforced.

Chicken may also be slaughtered for Kosher and Halal without stunning, this makes up 4% of the chickens slaughtered in the UK, according to the FSA in 2011.

Is Compassion calling for Halal slaughter to be stopped?

No. We respect the right to religious freedoms but all animals deserve a good life and a humane death.

We are calling for slaughter without effective stunning to be stopped. This applies to:

  • the small proportion (12%) of animals slaughtered for Halal without pre-stunning, and
  • chickens slaughtered with ineffective stunning that causes electro-immobilisation

We are therefore calling on DEFRA to convene the necessary technical expertise to resolve the problem of the ineffective stunning of chickens.

We are confident that pre-slaughter stunning of cattle and sheep is effective in Halal slaughter.

Is this legal?

The current stunning method being used for chickens in Halal slaughterhouses is illegal.

EU laws designed to reduce the suffering of chickens at slaughter came into force on 1st January 2013. This law is designed to ensure the animals are not conscious when slaughtered and reduce the suffering they would experience from having their throat cut while conscious. DEFRA said it would introduce the rules but revoked them prior to instating them with no date given as to when they will come into force in the future.

This means that stunning methods which are both ineffective and illegal may be used in abattoirs in England without a risk of prosecution under UK slaughter legislation.

What law is not being enforced?

Defra has decided to continue using a previous law, the 1995 Regulations on the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) – WASK – instead of introducing the new rules the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK), which would have ensured the EU Regulation 1099/2009 was properly enforced. 

The EU Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing, which came in on 1 January 2013, stipulates currents for water-bath stunning that should ensure an effective stun, so that the chicken will remain unconscious long enough for his/her throat to be slit.

Why don’t Halal abattoirs want to stun chickens effectively?

As far as we understand there are concerns about potential damage to the carcass of the chicken when it is effectively stunned. We have also been told that the equipment required to provide legal stunning is not in place and would be expensive to install.

With effective stunning methods, there is a small risk of the animal dying from the stun rather than the throat cut. If the animal is unable to recover after being stunned it is currently not deemed acceptable for Halal meat.

Does it affect all animals killed for Halal?

As far as we are aware, it just affects chickens as they are stunned by water-bath. Our knowledge is that other animals slaughtered for Halal who are stunned will be stunned within the law and that this should be effective.

What chicken should I buy to make sure the animal has been stunned before slaughter?

Buy higher welfare chicken from a certification scheme which guarantees the law on welfare at slaughter is compiled with and that animals are stunned to kill; Soil Association organic and RSPCA Freedom Food.

What is Compassion doing about this?

We want the regulations to be enforced to ensure effective stunning of all animals. The main concern here is chicken slaughter, since we are confident that proper currents are being used to kill ruminants in Halal slaughter. However, the WATOK regulations are necessary to ensure the enforcement of all the new EU Regulations which include specified parameters for slaughter including currents and frequencies as well as a range of requirements including appointment of animal welfare officers and standard operating procedures.

However, we have additional concerns with the higher frequencies permitted. As the issue with stunning at a low current with a higher frequency is that there is a high chance of the bird being immobilised but not unconscious.

We are calling for an urgent explanation from DEFRA of their plans to enforce the regulation. We will be making an official complaint to the EU Commission that Defra are not upholding the legislation.

We are working intensively with Food Businesses to ensure understanding in the industry.

We are closely communicating with Defra, FSA (Food Standards Agency), Halal Food Authority and the EU Commission.

We are supported the BVA petition to end slaughter without stunning.

What are Compassion's broader concerns about slaughter methods (halal, shechita and non-religious), labelling and ensuring animal welfare at time of slaughter?

As previously stated we respect the right to religious freedoms. All animals deserve a good life and a humane death. There are concerns over effective monitoring of animal welfare in conventional slaughterhouses that routinely use pre-stunning too.

We believe all animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter. Currently in the UK:

  • 12% of halal slaughtered animals are not stunned
  • Almost all animals killed by the shechita method for the Jewish faith’s kosher requirements are not stunned
  • Halal chicken is not effectively stunned prior to slaughter.

We are calling for mandatory labelling of meat as stunned/unstunned so consumers can make an informed choice when purchasing animal products

We are supporting the installation and effective monitoring of CCTV in all slaughterhouses to ensure high standards of animal welfare are achieved and maintained at all times.

What is WASK? How does this work?

Welfare of Animals (Slaughter and Killing) Regulations. They incorporated and added to the previous EU Regulations and provided legal framework for enforcement. These are still in effect.

What is WATOK? How does this work?

Welfare of Animals At Time of Killing regulations. These provided legal framework for enforcement by FSA of new EU regulations which are already part of law. However, they have been revoked, leaving WASK still in place. However, WASK does not allow for enforcement of electrical parameters required by the new EU regulations.

What else can I do?

We would encourage you to write to your local MP - you can do so via www.writetothem.com.

What points should I include?

  • All animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter, there should no loopholes in the law that allow non-stunned slaughter
  • All stunning must be effective, and either kill the animal outright or ensure it remains unconscious until death. Halal chicken slaughter is currently in breach of the law on this point and the Government must address this immediately.
  • Until such a time as all animals are stunned before slaughter, meat from unstunned animals must be labelled to enable consumer choice
  • All slaughter houses should have CCTV installed.

Do any of your Good Chicken Award winners sell Halal chicken who won’t have been stunned effectively? Why have you awarded them if yes?

The Good Chicken Award is given to companies that adhere to our welfare criteria while the animals are alive. They must be at a lower stocking density, given enrichment and natural light and use a slower growing breed or ensure they have a leg health plan in place. This is either as a current policy or on a commitment to achieve within 5 years. Unfortunately we cannot at this time confirm that all companies awarded avoid this form of slaughter, however we work closely with companies to ensure we raise the bar on farm animal welfare and we will work closely with our partners to ensure they are aware of this issue and work to try and resolve it if any are using the HFA certification parameters.