Ministers are taking action to cut the number of slaughterhouse animals killed without stunning, the animal-welfare minister says.
Zac Goldsmith told The Independent the government was taking several steps to tackle the practice, which is condemned by the British Veterinary Association as causing needless suffering and distress.
Some Muslims accept stunning if it renders the animal unconscious without killing it, but others refuse to accept stunning, so hundreds of thousands of animals a week have their throats cut while still awake.
It’s estimated halal consumers account for about 20 per cent of all UK sheep meat consumption.
But some meat from unstunned animals also goes into the food chain for non-religious consumers.
Lord Goldsmith said: “There is a range of measures we are going to be taking.
“We want to be respectful towards different religions and religious practices but we also want to tackle what is clearly an animal-welfare issue.
“And we think we can do so and can do so quickly.”
He said ministers were working with interested parties in the hope of reaching a consensus on action.
He said an initiative launched by the NFU called the “demonstration of life” protocol could show the Muslim community it was possible to apply a stun so that the animal would recover if it was allowed to. “So far progress has been promising,” he said.
Officials could also try to reduce excess numbers of sheep killed without stunning. “Nearly 30 per cent of sheep are killed without stunning, and that’s clearly not a reflection of domestic demand.
“There are also issues around exports and around slaughter without stunning on spec that we can address,” he added.
Animal-welfare experts and vets agree that for an animal’s throat to be cut while it is fully conscious causes extreme pain and distress. Stunning, if done correctly, should render an animal insensible to that pain and trauma.
Around 94 million UK animals are slaughtered without stunning a year.
Speaking to The Independent as the government launched proposals for a radical overhaul of animal-welfare laws, Lord Goldsmith also hailed as “revolutionary” government plans to pay farmers who go “over and above” the minimum standards required in an “animal-welfare pathway”.
“I think it’s a world-first and it should have a very significant impact.”
He said £3bn a year that used to go on the Common Agricultural Policy that “denuded Europe and the UK of wildlife and biodiversity” will now will put towards benefiting the environment.
“We’re trying as president of Cop26 to build up a coalition of countries to commit to doing something similar … if we could get a chunk of them to do the same we could theoretically flip the market to sustainable land use for the first time since the industrial revolution. This is huge,” he said.
Asked why the plan refers only to “exploring” bans on sales of real fur and foie gras – two of animal lovers’ most popular demands - rather than promising a definite ban, he said: “We have to look at the evidence whenever you bring in a rule that changes the value of a business, you have to consult. You can’t just unilaterally decide, otherwise the policy would be overturned.
“The fur industry is extraordinarily litigious.”
On the proposed ban on UK advertising of overseas attractions based on animal cruelty, he said he hoped to extend it from elephant rides to include whale and dolphin aquariums.