Meat that comes from animals which are not stunned before they are killed must be labelled, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has said.
Without new labelling rules, consumers risk unwittingly eating meat from animals suffering “unnecessary pain” before their death.
Until now the BVA, which represents 18,000 vets, has campaigned for an outright ban on the “cruel practice” of religious slaughter - which involves killing live animals with a sharp knife before allowing them to bleed to death.
A ban remains their goal but the professional body has adopted a new pragmatic approach believing it has more chance persuading ministers to introduce “no stun” labels.
James Russell, new BVA president, said: “Our concern is that every animal should have a good life with the highest welfare through life up to the point of death.
“But we just don’t know the destination of meat from some of this we animals that are killed without stunning and we believe it should be labelled.
“We don’t know where fresh meat on sale at counters and butchers’ shops comes from and we don’t know whether ‘no stun’ meat is used in some pies, ready meals or other meat products.”
Meat sold under certified assurance labels such as the Red Tractor, Quality Meat Scotland, RSPCA Assured and the Soil Association requires animals to be stunned before slaughter.
But as there is no legal requirement to label this meat, it is unclear how much meat from animals that aren't stunned goes on general sale.
A Food Standards Agency report last year however suggested some was entering the wider food chain.
Dr Amir Masoom, chief executive the Halal Food Authority, supporting the BVA said: “We would like to see all halal meat and meat products labelled ‘stun’ or ‘no stun’ so that consume can make an informed choice when they buy in shops.”
While Schechita UK, which represents the Jewish community, supports the consumer rights to know, spokesman Shimon Cohen criticised the proposed labelling as “one-dimensional.”
He said: “If consumer information is the goal, consumers should be informed of the manner of stunning at slaughter - captive bolt shooting, asphyxiation by gas, electrocution by tongs or electric water bath, or any other approved methods, including Jewish and Muslim slaughter.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “We respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs and expect the food industry to provide consumers with all the information they need to make informed choices.
“The Government has committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling in promoting high food and animal welfare standards across the UK market and to consult on this at the end of the transition period.”