Jewish community leaders have taken aim at the new head of the British Veterinary Association after he argued for religious slaughter to be banned.

John Blackwell, incoming President of the BVA, featured on the front page of The Times newspaper saying that slaughter without pre-stunning caused unnecessary suffering to animals.

But Shechita UK director Shimon Cohen accused Blackwell of “an extraordinary dereliction of duty” in a stinging rebuke.

“Of the countless pressing animal welfare issues that we are faced with today, he has chosen to focus on an issue which is not supported by scientific consensus and which affects a tiny minority of animals,” he said.

“The fact is that religious slaughter is at least as humane as the industrialised methods used in conventional mechanical slaughter which include electrocution, gassing, shooting, trapping, drowning and clubbing.”

Blackwell had earlier said that religious customs associated with slaughtering animals should be adapted to take in more humane methods of killing, because the animal felt “five or six seconds of pain”.

Kosher and Halal slaughter practices mean animals are conscious when their throats are slit and their blood drained, but Blackwell said animals should be unconscious, as they “feel the cut” when it is made.

“They will feel the massive injury of the tissues of the neck,” he wrote. “They will perceive the aspiration of blood they will breathe in before they lose consciousness.”

He added that Denmark had recently banned kosher slaughter “for animal welfare reasons, which is right” and that Britain “may well have to go down that route”.

However, the Jewish community was quick to point out that animal welfare groups such as Animal Aid had uncovered “serious and widespread” cruelty at conventional slaughterhouses in recent years.

“The kind of scenes uncovered at these abattoirs are unheard of where kosher meat is concerned,” said Cohen. “Animal welfare is at the heart of everything that we do.”

He added: “It is scandalous that, once again, the BVA continue to single out faith communities for criticism.”

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Board of Deputies’ Vice-President Jonathan Arkush called Blackwell’s input “deeply regrettable and misleading”.

He said: “At least 9 percent of animals are miss-stunned, causing them pain, fear and distress. If Mr Blackwell was putting the facts fairly before the public, why did he not mention this?”