Four slaughterers have had their operating licenses suspended after hidden cameras were used to film the alleged mistreatment of animals at a halal slaughterhouse in the UK. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched an investigation into the footage from the Bowood Lamb abattoir in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, saying there was "no excuse for treating animals in the way shown on the video" and adding that prosecutions could follow, the Huffington Post reports.
Animal rights group Animal Aid used hidden cameras to record footage over a period of three days in December.
The footage apparently shows:
- A worker hacking and sawing at animals' throats, in direct contravention of Islamic practice. In one instance it took up to five attempts to sever blood vessels.
- Sheep being kicked in the face and head, lifted by their ears, fleeces or legs, and hurled into solid structures.
- A worker standing on the neck of a conscious sheep and bouncing up and down.
- Staff erupting into laughter over a sheep bleeding to death with spectacles drawn around her eyes in green paint.
- Staff taunting and frightening animals by waving knives, smacking them on the head and shouting at them.
- A worker holding a sheep by the throat and pulling back his fist as if to deliver a punch.
The law requires abattoirs to stun animals before slaughter to prevent unnecessary suffering, but there are exemptions for Jewish and Muslim producers. Under the halal code, animals are supposed to be killed quickly, with a single sweep of a surgically-sharp knife. They should not see the knife before they are slaughtered, or witness the death of other animals.
The video footage appears to show that these rules were not adhered to at Bowood, where more than 4,000 sheep were filmed being killed.
Sheep appeared to have knives sharpened in front of them and watched their flock-mates bleeding to death before being shackled and hoisted. Animals can apparently be seen having their throats hacked and sawed by a worker wearing the traditional Muslim kufi skullcap and muttering the words Allahu Akbar (God is great).
Kate Fowler, head of campaigns at Animal Aid, said the scenes were "inexcusable". Animal Aid also criticized the poor design of the slaughterhouse. The group said that sheep fell some distance from a chute on to a slippery floor in the kill area and were often unable to stand.
They were then frequently thrown head-first into a solid upright structure, part of the conveyor, Animal Aid said.
Under UK law, slaughtered animals that have not been stunned must remain in position for at least 20 seconds after their throats are cut, to ensure loss of consciousness. But 86% of the sheep at Bowood were moved before that amount of time had elapsed, some in as little as one second, according to Animal Aid.
Although Government-appointed vets are supposed to be on hand in all abattoirs the size of Bowood, none were seen during the three days of filming.
Animal Aid said that, when it gained access to the abattoir, it did not know it was a non-stun establishment.
The group is calling for independently monitored CCTV cameras to be compulsory at slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouses in the UK are regulated by the FSA, which provides operating licenses and carries out inspections. A prepared statement from the FSA said: "The Food Standards Agency takes animal welfare at abattoirs very seriously, which is why we immediately suspended the licenses of the slaughterers involved.
"There is no excuse for treating animals in the way shown on the video and we are therefore investigating the footage with a view to prosecution. We are also continuing to investigate all the circumstances around the incident to ensure proper safeguards are introduced to stop this happening in the future."
An FSA spokesman added: "Four slaughterers have had their licenses suspended and we are investigating. It means they can't operate as slaughterers and work with live animals. When the FSA has finished investigating it will need to consider if there is sufficient evidence of a breach of animal welfare legislation to justify a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, which would decide whether to prosecute or not."
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