The following is an extract from the "Report on the Welfare of Farmed Animals at Slaughter or Killing" by the (UK) Farm Animal Welfare Council. (link to PDF file) It is clear that the Council considered in depth the welfare implications of slaughtering animals without stunning and the Council clearly recommends that such slaughter causes such a compromise the welfare of, (not to say terror, pain and sufferingto) these animals that these practices must cease. Not even the big dollars can justify this cruelty.

Slaughter without pre-stunning


179. The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (as amended) (WASK) require that all animals are stunned before slaughter, using the methods of stunning prescribed by the Regulations, subject to specific exemptions. One of these exemptions refers to slaughter without the infliction of unnecessary suffering by the Jewish method for the food of Jews; or by the Muslim method for the food of Muslims, provided the requirements for the licensing of slaughtermen under the Regulations are met. Religious issues surrounding slaughter without pre-stunning were explored in detail in the FAWC report on religious slaughter published in 1985 and have not been reiterated in this report. Council has taken account of relevant information generated since then in drawing its conclusions. We welcome the implementation of those recommendations that were accepted at the time but feel that the outstanding welfare issues should be re-examined.

180. The Jewish method of slaughtering animals for food (Shechita) requires that they be healthy at the time of slaughter and must not have suffered any physical injury. For this reason, pre-slaughter stunning methods that are judged to cause physical injuries prior to cutting the throat have been considered unacceptable for this slaughter method.

181. Cattle are restrained in an upright position in a specialised pen with the head held fast and the neck exposed in a suitable position for incision of the throat. A transverse cut must be made using a reciprocal, uninterrupted motion of the knife. The intention is to produce an immediate outpouring of blood by severing both jugular veins and both carotid arteries. The knife used for cattle has a long, extremely sharp and undamaged blade. After the cut has been made the animal must remain restrained until it is bled out before being released, shackled and hoisted. With Rabbinical approval some premises have adopted a post-cut stun for cattle.

182. In the case of sheep, the animal may be shorn around the neck prior to slaughter to ensure that the knife is not blunted by the wool, or the incision contaminated. Sheep are manually placed on their back on a cradle. The handler will hold the animal on the cradle whilst the neck is extended and a transverse incision is made, in much the same way as for cattle, resulting in an immediate outpouring of blood. The sheep must remain on the cradle until it has bled out before it is shackled and hoisted. No post-cut stunning is carried out in sheep.

183. During our consultations concern was expressed to us about meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning (including meat from the hindquarters of some animals and meat from rejected animals) being placed, unidentified, on the open market rather than being consumed by the Jewish community. As a result, larger numbers of animals are slaughtered without pre-stunning than would be necessary if all carcases, and the entire carcase were acceptable. FAWC will return to the consumer choice implications of this in a future report.

184. The Muslim method of slaughter (Halal) is, in many respects, similar to Shechita. However, pre-slaughter stunning methods for sheep and cattle that have been demonstrated not to kill the animal, such that the heart is still beating, have been deemed acceptable and have routinely been adopted in many Halal slaughterhouses.

185. Council has focused on three particular animal welfare issues with regard to slaughter without pre-stunning:-

• pre-slaughter handling;

• the potential for pain and distress during exsanguination; and

• the time to loss of brain responsiveness.


Pre-slaughter handling


186. The level of restraint required to expose the throat, perform an effective cut and hold the animal still until it has bled out is greater than is needed for conventional slaughter. The restraining pens used for this purpose require Ministerial approval. This “is designed to protect bovine animals from any avoidable pain, suffering, agitation, injuries or contusions in the pen and in particular to ensure effective means of restraint and support” (WASK).

187. The design and operation of restraining pens are assessed by the SVS before Ministerial approval is given. We are concerned about the effectiveness of restraint and the distress caused to animals that we observed during our visits, particularly when smaller cattle were restrained. For instance, the head could slip out of the restraining mechanism and there is also a risk of leg injuries. The operation of the restraint itself takes particular skill to ensure that the animal is held in an appropriate position with the neck extended for an effective cut to be made with speed and accuracy. Restraining pens of this type may cause higher levels of distress than conventional stunning boxes and for a longer period of time. Council would like all restraining pens currently in use to be reevaluated, particularly in terms of the efficiency of restraint of animals of varying sizes.

188. We are mindful of the consequences should the chin lift be released or should the head become free after the neck cut has been made. This could result in the animal’s head dropping forward onto the metal work of the restraining pen thereby causing further pain and distress. In addition, this could also result in the occlusion of severed blood vessels causing a restriction in blood loss and thereby potentially delaying the time to insensibility.


189. Government should arrange re-evaluation of all restraining pens currently in use,

particularly in terms of the efficiency of restraint of animals of varying sizes.



190. The manual restraint of sheep is entirely dependent on the skill, care and consideration of the handlers and is a physically demanding procedure. We were concerned with some of the illegal handling practices we saw where young sheep were lifted by the fleece. With larger, heavier animals the effort required to lift animals would be even greater. The risk is that the welfare of the animals, particularly with higher throughput, may be neglected for the sake of expediency.

191. There is equipment available for restraining sheep on-farm, for example crates used for husbandry procedures such as foot trimming, which we believe could be adapted for restraining sheep prior to this slaughter method.


192. The legislation prohibiting the lifting of sheep by the fleece should be enforced by the OVS.

193. Alternatives to manual restraint methods for sheep should be explored by the industry for use at slaughter without pre-stunning.


Pain and distress during exsanguination

194. We have carefully considered the representations we have received which have put forward the view that a neck cut is not painful provided it is a rapid, uninterrupted movement carried out with an extremely sharp knife. It is difficult to measure pain and distress during the slaughter process in an objective scientific manner and subjective indicators, such as behavioural responses and vocalisation, are prevented from being displayed because of the degree of restraint and the severance of the trachea respectively. By the same token, it is impossible to state with objectivity that an animal would not feel pain and distress following such a procedure.

195. When a very large transverse incision is made across the neck a number of vital tissues are transected including: skin, muscle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins, major nerve trunks (e.g. vagus and phrenic nerves) plus numerous minor nerves. Such a drastic cut will inevitably trigger a barrage of sensory information to the brain in a sensible (conscious) animal. We are persuaded that such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress in the period before insensibility supervenes.

196. Additionally, on one visit, we observed the slaughterman place his hand into the neck wound of cattle immediately after the cut had been made, presumably to try to ensure the free flow of blood from the severed carotid arteries (see ‘occlusion’ below). This procedure in itself is, in our view, likely to cause further unnecessary pain and distress and is also unlikely to achieve its objective.


197. Where an animal has not been stunned, the OVS must ensure that nothing is inserted into the neck wound post-cut.


Time to loss of brain responsiveness

198. Loss of sensibility post-cut can be detected by observing brain function through electroencephalographic methodology – a lack of response indicating certain insensibility or death. The scientific evidence shows that sheep become insensible within 5-7 seconds of the cut (3-7 seconds in goats). Adult cattle, however, may take between 22 and 40 seconds to become insensible. This period may be extended should occlusion of the carotid arteries take place. Work done on calves has shown a variation in period to insensibility from 10-120 seconds depending on the extent of occlusion of the carotid arteries or ballooning in blood vessels. Furthermore, a separate study of brain response after Shechita slaughter of cattle compared to that after captive-bolt stunning indicated responses for up to 60 seconds in the former and no response in the latter. (The difference in the times to loss of sensibility between the various species is due to anatomical differences in the blood supply to the brain).

199. Occlusion refers to a phenomenon observed in a proportion of cattle, and particularly in calves, when the carotid arteries have been severed transversely. Very rapidly after the cut, the carotids may, by virtue of their elasticity, retract into their own external connective tissue coat. The connective tissue becomes filled with blood, which then clots thereby occluding the flow of blood from the severed arteries by sealing the cut ends. Because the heart is still beating, the blood pressure in the anterior aorta is maintained and hence also in the vertebral artery. This latter vessel supplies the brain and is not severed during the neck cut. Occlusion therefore has the effect of delaying insensibility for a considerable period and therefore increases the time during which an animal may be experiencing severe pain and distress.

200. Overall, we have looked at slaughter without pre-stunning against the basic principles set out at the beginning of our report which aim to ensure the welfare of animals at slaughter (see Paragraph 8). We consider that at least two of these principles –

pre-slaughter handling facilities that minimise stress and induction to a period of unconsciousness without distress – are not satisfactorily observed. Given that the exemption from pre-stunning is subject to the requirement that unnecessary suffering is not inflicted, we consider that the Government should take steps to repeal this exemption.


201. Council considers that slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and that the Government should repeal the current exemption.

202. The argument has been put to us that a pre-cut stun or an immediate post-cut stun adversely affects the efficiency of exsanguination and that this is a reason for not stunning animals during slaughter. Recent research carried out on the efficiency of bleed-out in sheep following slaughter shows that there is no significant difference in the rate of blood loss from a throat cut with or without stunning, whether the stunning is achieved by electrical means or by captive-bolt. We are therefore not persuaded by this argument. In any event, under optimal conditions, only approximately 50% of the body’s total blood is exsanguinated at slaughter. Of the blood remaining in the carcass, the majority resides in the viscera (30%) with the rest in the muscles (20%). Therefore, any minor difference in the efficiency of bleed-out would have a very minimal effect on the amount of blood remaining in the tissues.


203. Until the current exemption which permits slaughter without pre-stunning is repealed, Council recommends that any animal not stunned before slaughter should receive an immediate post-cut stun.


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