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Bristol BS2 8QH
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18 October 2000
ELECTRIC STUNNING DOES
NOT WORK, SAYS VIVA!
The animal charity Viva! today reveals that UK
slaughterhouses are stunning farmed animals with electrical
equipment which does not cause an immediate or an
uninterrupted loss of consciousness.
Under UK law, stunning techniques are supposed to cause an,
‘immediate loss of consciousness which lasts until death’
and according to the Meat Hygiene Service, most sheep and
pigs are given an electric head-only stun. Viva!’s new
Sentenced to Death report on the slaughter of farmed animals
uncovers scientific research which reveals that this
stunning technique is ineffective.
Researchers at Bristol University’s Department of Food
Animal Science examined whether electrically stunned sheep
respond to flashing lights following a stun. They found
that, “The epileptiform phase is interposed with periods of
cortical responsiveness and the possibility cannot be ruled
out that these correspond to transient periods of
perception... There is as yet no unequivocal scientific
evidence which shows how electrical stunning actually stuns
In a follow up paper, the scientists electrically stunned
sheep and examined whether they then responded to
“potentially painful stimuli” - like manual pinching of the
ear and electrical stimulation of the tooth. They conclude
that electrical stunning does induce a state of analgesia
but this does not alter their previous observation that
electrically stunned animals have periods of consciousness
which can last up to 8 seconds.
Viva! wrote to the Bristol research team and asked, “Am I
right in saying that after being stunned in this way
[electric head-only stun] sheep cannot feel pain but that
they are not actually unconscious i.e. they are aware of
Researcher Steve Wotton replied, “Your interpretation of our
conclusions is generally correct...”.
Says Viva! Campaigner Rebecca Smith, “The idea that sheep
are aware of their surroundings as they bleed to death is
horrific. It also goes against the legislative principle of
stunning - animals are supposed to be rendered unconscious.”
Although the Bristol research was conducted in the 1980s, it
has never been brought to light and Viva! has confirmed with
the scientists that no further research into the area has
been carried out since that time.
Viva!’s investigation has revealed that animals may also be
fully aware of the pain caused by the stun itself. Dr Harold
Hillman, director of the Unity Laboratory of Applied
Neurobiology in Surrey, states in his submission to the
report that passing an electric current through the brain of
a conscious animal is a barbaric procedure which he
describes as, “torture”.
Says Hillman, “The reasons for which people do not believe
that electrical stunning of animals or electrocution of
prisoners is painful is that the normal reaction of a
conscious animal to pain is to move violently and make loud
noises. However, the massive electrical current stimulates
all the muscles maximally and this paralyses the animal.
Thus they can neither move violently, nor can their vocal
chords make noises. Their observers naturally think that
they are not in pain.”
The Bristol researchers admit that there is no proof that
animals are rendered immediately unconscious by an electric
head-only stun. They say, “It was not possible to say
whether responsiveness to the potentially painful stimuli
was lost instantaneously at electrical stunning”.
“Consumers who purchase meat are under the illusion that the
animals have been ‘humanely’ killed,” says Rebecca Smith.
“They would be horrified if they realised that these
assurances often have no scientific basis.
“Electric head-only stunning does not prevent animal
suffering at slaughter and Viva! is calling on the Ministry
of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to phase out this cruel,
outdated technique immediately.”
More information: Rebecca Smith, Juliet Gellatley or Tony
Wardle on 0117 944 1000.
Note to Editors: Viva! has video footage and photographs showing sheep
and pigs being killed. Read
our briefing and report here.
N.G. Gregory, S.B. Wotton, 1985. Sheep slaughtering
procedures IV: Responsiveness of the brain following
electrical stunning. British Veterinary Journal 141,
N.G. Gregory, S.B. Wotton, 1988. Sheep slaughtering
procedures V. Responsiveness to potentially painful stimuli
following electrical stunning, British Veterinary Journal