Four slaughtermen at a North Yorkshire abattoir have had their operating licences suspended after hidden cameras were used to film the alleged mistreatment of animals at a halal slaughterhouse.

The Food Standards Agency has launched an investigation into the footage from the Bowood Lamb abattoir in Thirsk, saying there was “no excuse for treating animals in the way shown on the video” and adding that prosecutions could follow.

Animal rights group Animal Aid used hidden cameras to record the footage over a period of three days in December.

The law requires abattoirs to stun animals before slaughter to prevent unnecessary suffering, but there are exemptions for Jewish and Muslim producers.

Under the halal code, animals are supposed to be killed quickly, with a single sweep of a surgically-sharp knife. They should not see the knife before they are slaughtered, or witness the death of other animals.

The video footage appears to show that these rules were not adhered to at Bowood, where more than 4,000 sheep were filmed.

A prepared statement from the FSA said: “The Food Standards Agency takes animal welfare at abattoirs very seriously, which is why we immediately suspended the licences of the slaughtermen involved.

“There is no excuse for treating animals in the way shown on the video and we are therefore investigating the footage with a view to prosecution.”

Asked about the allegations, William Woodward, one of the abattoir’s directors, said: “We have no comment to make.”