The slaughter of animals for commercial meat supply without stunning them first should at the very least be curbed, if not banned, concludes a former president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) in an opinion piece in this week's Veterinary Record.
There has been a steady rise in the number of animals killed in this way over the past decade, the available data suggest.
UK and EU legislation allow for the slitting of animals' throats without prior stunning to enable Muslims and Jews to meet the dietary requirements of their faiths, but with the caveat that it must not cause "unnecessary suffering."
But it does, says Professor Bill Reilly, pointing to the findings of both the former Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) and the EU funded Dialrel Project, which encouraged dialogue among 11 countries on issues of religious slaughter.
FAWC concluded that: "such a massive injury would result in very significant pain and distress" before an animal lost consciousness, and said the practice was "unacceptable."
The Dialrel Project report drew similar conclusions, based on the fact that the throat is rich in nerve endings.
These findings can be easily verified in films posted on YouTube, which "clearly demonstrate the pain and distress of obviously still sentient animals after non-stun slaughter," adds Professor Reilly.
An estimated 2 million animals, mostly poultry, are killed without stunning for the orthodox Jewish community (Schecita), while Halal meat now accounts for 25% of the entire UK meat market, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that almost half of lambs destined for slaughter are killed without prior stunning.
As these figures far exceed the proportions of religious communities with these dietary requirements, commercial factors may have played their part in this rise, suggests Professor Reilly. Abattoirs without stunning facilities may be cheaper to run and enjoy a marketing advantage, he says.