It is alarming that apparently zero government officials are inspecting fish welfare at slaughter.
Freedom of information (FOI) requests by animal protection charity The Humane League UK have revealed that the UK Government and public bodies responsible for overseeing animal welfare are failing to inspect farmed fish welfare at slaughter.
The FOIs, carried out over summer and autumn, show that there is no established process for regular welfare inspections at fish processing sites, despite legislation requiring animals including fish to “be spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during their killing and related operations.”
Cordelia Britton, head of campaigns at The Humane League UK, said “It is alarming that apparently zero government officials are inspecting fish welfare at slaughter.
"From our correspondence it seems clear that no relevant agency knows what’s going on, with each institution passing the buck to another.
"Without proper oversight, cruelty goes unnoticed - it is time for the Government to take responsibility for how farmed fish are slaughtered, as they do for other farmed animals.”
Research The Humane League commissioned from YouGov also revealed substantial support for fish welfare reform, including 67 percent of people saying they believed fish feel pain.
Asked "To what extent do you agree or disagree that fish should have the same legal protections as other farmed animals?”, the average number of those who agreed was 71 percent.
The 2017 European Commission report on the welfare of farmed fish states that fish welfare inspections in Scotland are the responsibility of the Animal and Plant Health agency (APHA) and Marine Scotland.
Marine Scotland informed The Humane League that it does not conduct welfare checks, but that the APHA may “possibly” conduct them.
However, the charity was informed by APHA that it “does not have a routine programme of official inspections at fish processing sites.” A follow-up FOI earlier this months established that welfare checks at slaughter are still not occurring.
The situation for trout farming in England and Wales is similar. The Humane League was told that neither the Food Standards Agency nor the Fish Health Inspectorate conduct welfare inspections of fish slaughterhouses in England and Wales, and that the Environmental Health departments of local authorities conduct these instead.
However, Environmental Health responded to say that APHA was actually responsible for conducting fish welfare checks. APHA subsequently informed THL that it does not conduct regular inspections of fish processing sites. As a result The Humane League believes that no government officials in the UK are monitoring fish welfare at the time of killing.
Dr Vicky Bond, managing director of The Humane League UK, said "Fish are often forgotten in discussions and decisions on animal welfare, and this is wholly unjustified. The scientific and public consensus is that they feel pain, so refusing farmed fish the same protections afforded to land animals is completely irrational.
The government Animal Welfare Committee suggested the law be updated with detailed stunning requirements back in 1996, and twenty five years later farmed fish still have the same inadequate safeguards. This needs to change.”
Ruby Harbour is the editorial assistant at The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from The Humane League UK.