A leading charity has called the government to expand its definition of the 'welfare needs of animals' by explicitly including pre-stunning of animals at time of slaughter.
The government is asking the public for its views on the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill.
Humanists UK said it "broadly supports" the Bill, but is calling on the Government to go further with its legal definition of the ‘welfare needs of animals’.
The current draft Bill makes no reference to what the charity calls "inhumane religious exemptions" to current animal welfare legislation which allow animals to be slaughtered without pre-stunning in accordance with halal and kosher traditions.
Many animal welfare organisations including the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and even the Government’s own Farm Animal Welfare Committee believe that non-stunned slaughter is cruel, and the loopholes in the law that allow it to happen should be ended.
Indeed, the BVA said last year that there was a "grave concern" over the rise in livestock killed without stunning.
The BVA said that slaughter without stunning "unnecessarily compromises" the welfare of animals at the time of death.
The government consultation questions whether the term ‘welfare needs of animals’ should be defined in the Bill, and if so what should constitute these needs.
Humanists UK is calling for the Government to expand its definition of the ‘welfare needs of animals’ to ensure that animal welfare standards are adhered to for the whole of an animal’s life by explicitly including pre-stunning of animals at the time of slaughter.
This would mean that the use of stunning would become a universal requirement.
Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan said the current legal approach to religious slaughter is "incoherent".
"That this Bill is being proposed attests to the fact that there is a well-established consensus, reflected in our laws on slaughter, animal cruelty, and hunting that there is a collective standard of welfare applied to animals, below which it is both a crime and an cruelty to subject them to," Ms Taggart-Ryan said.
"Those laws make pre-stunning a requirement before slaughter because it is deemed to be part of the needs of the animal, placing its welfare as prime consideration."
"That consideration does not change for an animal subjected to religious slaughter."
Ms Taggar-Ryan said that in terms of the suffering experienced by the animal at the point of non-stunned slaughter, there is no "qualitative or quantitative difference" if it is carried out by someone with specific religious convictions or not.
She added: "The exceptions from this standard cannot be justified. This Bill is a rare opportunity for the Government to rationalise this incoherent approach to animal welfare, by clearly defining pre-stunning as a welfare need."