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You are here: HomeAbout the HSAHistory of the HSA

History of the HSA

Early pioneers...

The Council of Justice to Animals (CJA) was formed in 1911 by a small group of people who were concerned about the methods being used to slaughter animals for food and for killing cats and dogs. They were also anxious to improve the welfare of food animals by introducing reforms to livestock markets and transport facilities. Initially, the Society had a number of branches, including a separate Council of Justice in Scotland, and dispensaries were maintained for animals of the poor. In 1928 the CJA amalgamated with the Humane Slaughter of Animals Association, to form a unique organisation, now generally known as the HSA.

The HSA has always maintained a practical, rational approach to animal welfare and, over the last 100 years, it has been responsible for many of the reforms now taken for granted.

The HSA’s first aim was to replace the pole-axe with a mechanically operated humane stunner. Demonstrations were given to slaughtermen all over the country and hundreds of humane stunners were distributed free of charge. Initially the meat trade objected, fearing that the meat might be contaminated, but this suspicion was overcome when the HSA petitioned doctors for their support to the contrary.

In the early 1920s, the HSA carried out an eight month demonstration of the humane stunner at an Islington slaughterhouse. As a result of the Association's work, humane stunners were adopted by 28 London boroughs and later by 494 other local authorities.

Market reforms

In the early years the HSA visited many markets. It was found that animals suffered from exposure, lack of water and rough handling in antiquated street facilities. It was clear that purpose-built markets were needed and, following a detailed study of market sites, the Association consulted with the authorities to ensure that adequate cover, lighting, ventilation, drainage and non-slip floors were included in new and updated market plans. Where necessary, the HSA gave financial assistance to provide calf shelters, loading bays, poultry pens and water troughs. In 1990, the HSA introduced an annual Market Award to acknowledge facilities which ensured better conditions for farm animals.

Animal Transport

For many years, cattle arriving at Glasgow on ships from Ireland were driven on foot for about four miles through the busy city streets to the abattoir. The Association pressed the railways and Glasgow Corporation to move animals by rail and eventually, in 1941, lines were laid connecting Merklands Wharf with the main railway and the slaughterhouse. The HSA maintains that animals should be slaughtered as close to the point of production as possible. During the first half of the 1970s, the Association pushed for a ban on the live export of animals for slaughter. A temporary ban was achieved although trade was resumed in 1975. The HSA made a number of trips to the continent to study the transport of animals and the evidence collected was given to a UK Government working group.


As early as 1924, the Association travelled to Greece and Italy to press for improvements in animal welfare. In 1943 a member of the HSA left £6,000 to help introduce humane slaughter in Canada. In 1950 a joint project to fulfil the terms of the bequest was set up between Miss Sidley, General Secretary of the HSA and Mr Shelvoke, then Managing Director of Accles and Shelvoke, a major firearms manufacturer. Slaughter demonstrations were arranged and carried out at Canada Packers by an expert slaughterman. As a result, the Canadian Parliament later passed regulations enforcing the use of humane methods.

Every year the HSA receives requests to provide training materials and advice to countries overseas. In many parts of the world there remains a need to improve the welfare of food animals and the HSA responds to appeals for help, promoting humane slaughter methods worldwide.

Further slaughter progress

In the early 1930s there were still no English laws to protect the welfare of animals at slaughter, although a number of local councils had adopted bye-laws requiring the use of the humane stunner in slaughterhouses within their jurisdiction. The HSA distributed thousands of petitions and carried out a survey to provide evidence on the number of animals killed and the types of equipment used. As a result, the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933 was introduced. The Act required that the mechanical humane stunner must be used on all cattle and calves and that the electrical humane stunner or 'electrolethaler' be used on pigs in bacon factories. However, in slaughterhouses without electricity, pigs could still be stuck when fully conscious and the method of killing sheep was left to the discretion of local authorities. Appeals by the HSA eventually brought all these animals within the scope of the Act.

The private slaughter of pigs had practically disappeared by the end of the 1930s but during the 1939-45 war thousands of pigs, reared by pig clubs, were slaughtered for home consumption, and many were being bled when fully conscious. The HSA took immediate action, giving away almost 500 humane stunners to licensed slaughtermen all over the country in order for them to provide a service to the pig clubs.

This paved the way for the Slaughter of Animals (Pigs) Act 1954, making compulsory the mechanical stunning of pigs outside slaughterhouses.

The HSA continued to push for improved conditions in red meat slaughterhouses, putting pressure on the Government. Many premises lacked basic sanitation and provided inadequate accommodation and facilities for livestock. The HSA was consulted for its opinion before The Slaughterhouses Act 1958 and the Prevention of Cruelty and Hygiene Regulations finally became mandatory.

In the 1960s, the HSA helped develop the first hand-held, low-voltage electric stunner for poultry and later arranged for an automatic stunner, dealing with 4,500 poultry per hour, to be demonstrated in the United Kingdom. The Slaughter of Poultry Act 1967 was subsequently introduced and, during the debate in the House of Lords, special mention was made of the HSA's work.

The 1980s saw the HSA shift its emphasis towards education and training. A full-time slaughter specialist was employed and practical demonstrations were given in abattoirs, both in the UK and overseas. This work, now carried out by our team of technical staff, continues to be one of the main priorities of the Association.

The HSA published ‘Making a difference: 100 years of the Humane Slaughter Association’ to mark the association’s Centenary in 2011.

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