The footage was sent to the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) for investigation last month.
Animal Aid filmed the stunning box at Sturminster Newton – which is owned by Anglo Beef Processors – over a two-day period, and the killing area over a subsequent two days. From the very beginning it was clear that a breach in the law was allowed to go uncorrected and that this had led to significant welfare problems and additional suffering for the cows.
By law, bovine stunning boxes must be fitted with a head restraint. Preferably, this should be a passive head shelf, which encourages the animals to place their heads in the position most likely to aid a clean shot from the captive bolt. At Sturminster Newton, no such head shelf was fitted and, according to the MHS, this had been the case since the box was installed at the beginning of November last year.
It is clear from the footage obtained that the stun operator had trouble making effective and clean stuns, and a significant proportion of animals (12 per cent of the 114 cows filmed) endured multiple stuns in order to render them unconscious before slaughter. In its response to Animal Aid’s evidence, the MHS wrote: ‘The need to re-stun those animals that did not become immediately unconscious may have been avoided had the stunning box been fitted with a head restraint reducing the opportunity for the animal to move its head a moment before impact.’ And yet, the MHS-appointed vet either did not spot this breach of the law, or chose to turn a blind eye. Animal Aid is pushing for those responsible to be prosecuted.
Another clear breach of the law – leaving cows for up to 65 minutes in the stunning box before they were stunned – was also admitted by the MHS. It has recommended retraining for staff in relation to this issue. Animal Aid has described this decision as ‘a wholly inadequate response to a serious breach that caused animals unnecessary suffering’ and has, instead, asked that those responsible be investigated with a view to prosecution.
The final legal breach – the stun operator beating two cows with a squeegee mop – is being investigated ‘with a view to suspending/revoking his licence (if applicable) and to recommending the case for investigation for a possible breach of WASK’ [Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations].
Says Animal Aid Head of Campaigns, Kate Fowler:
‘Animal Aid has once again identified serious breaches of the law at a UK slaughterhouse. Such failings have caused wholly unnecessary additional suffering to animals and those responsible should be held to account.
‘In light of the body of evidence that Animal Aid has obtained from six abattoirs, the government and industry can no longer pretend that UK slaughterhouses have high welfare standards and adhere to the law. Abattoirs are terror-filled environments where animals – who are treated as inanimate objects – may be beaten and goaded if they do not walk meekly to their deaths. The apparent absence of compassion at Sturminster Newton, along with the routine breaking of animal welfare laws, affirms what we have concluded from filming at other UK slaughterhouses: there is no such thing as humane slaughter.’