General Summary of the legal position as discussed recently in Parliament:
It seems to me that part of our remit in politics is to make sure we explore subjects thoroughly. There is a way in which we can sloganize the issues- and get it wrong! Recently, I made a film about concerns over Ritual slaughter and animal welfare. (I was forbidden by the UKIP hierarchy from showing it, but I am now free from their clutches, so the link is here:)
I think we allowed the wrong message to get out- namely, that we want to stun all animals before slaughter. In fact, we want simply to ensure that there is proper labelling showing, among other things, whether an animal has been slaughtered in a secular or a religious abattoir. I came across a very well formulated statment about this debate from the Muslim Council of Britain:
The Muslim Council of Britain calls on the BVA to “get real” on animal welfare
23rd February 2015
Today MPs debate religious slaughter following an e-petition launched in April 2014, which reached 100k signatures, calling for the end of religious slaughter. Another e-petition launched within the last fortnight calling for the protection of non-stun religious slaughter has attracted significantly more support, with over 122k signatures being received in just 10 days.
Dr. Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said:
“The overwhelming support in the UK for the protection of religious slaughter, whether Shechita or Halal, is undeniable with over 122,000 people signing the petition in the last two weeks alone.”
In the midst of concerns about animal welfare, he added:
“Islam and Judaism, like other faiths, require animals to be treated humanely at all times. We urge the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to investigate how animal abuses of the kind exposed by Animal Aid and Hillside Animal Sanctuary could occur when every abattoir is supposed to be under the supervision of a veterinarian. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) should stop fanning the hysteria around religious slaughter and “get real” on the true priority of animal welfare. If the BVA are genuinely concerned about animal welfare, we need to hear what they are doing about the duty of veterinarians to ensure the welfare of animals in the slaughterhouses, at all times, given the abuses reported.”
The Muslim Council of Britain urges MPs to devote their discussion to the real animal welfare concerns at slaughterhouses, irrespective of whether they do or don’t stun.
- Notes to Editors: The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques,charities and schools. For further information please contact:
- The Muslim Council of Britain PO Box 57330 London E1 2WJ Tel: 0845 26 26 786 Fax: 0207 247 7079 email@example.com This is the Commons summary: Religious Slaughter of Animals – Commons Library Standard Note Published 18 February 2015
- Standard notes SN07108 Amended 19 February 2015
- Authors: Emma Downing Topic: Agriculture, Animal welfare, Food, Human rights, Religion and faith communities
There has been growing public and parliamentary focus in the last year on methods used for religious slaughter, welfare concerns about whether animals are stunned before slaughter, which food outlets are serving halal meat as a matter of course to all customers, and whether all meat prepared by halal and kosha methods is being labelled as such.
UK and EU slaughter regulations set minim welfare standards at slaughter and require all animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter to minimise their suffering. Member States may exempt slaughter in accordance with religious beliefs from the pre-stunning requirement and the UK implements this derogation.
The Government has said that it would prefer all animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter on welfare grounds but it observes the rights of religious communities and the Prime Minister has said he will never ban religious slaughter practices. For animal slaughter to be lawful under Jewish law and Shariah (Islamic) law, Jewish (Shechita) and Muslim (Halal) conditions have to be met before an animal is cut and bled. These conditions also dictate how, and whether, pre-stunning of animals is acceptable.
Around 80% of meat in the UK prepared by the Halal method is pre-stunned, including supermarket own-brand meat. The British Veterinary Association (BVA), RSPCA, and Compassion in World Farming have had long running campaigns against slaughter without stunning arguing that the scientific evidence, shows that non-stun slaughter allows animals to perceive pain and compromises welfare. However, faith communities counter that, when carried out properly, their slaughter methods are more humane. The BVA instigated an e-petition in May 2014 on this matter and it has already had over 114,000 signatures triggering a Commons Debate. A counter petition, calling for the protection of the right to non-stun religious slaughter, has 38,000 signatures.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb’s August 2014 report Meat Slaughtered in Accordance with Religious Rites highlighted areas of research that would better support the evidence-base for policy-making in this area as well as future slaughter practices. All sides agree that method-of-slaughter labelling would help the consumer to decide whether they want to buy non-stun meat.
The UK Government is now awaiting a delayed EU Commission report on animal welfare labelling.
The commons’ debate:
During the debate itself the following are the salient points:
1) a) Philip Hollobone (Kettering): hindquarters of animals killed by (non-stun) Shechita can enter the market unlabelled. While non-stun slaughter is permitted we call for clearer slaughter-method labelling and post-cut stunning to improve welfare…..Members agree that the important thing is to label meat products as helpfully as possible, so that consumers can make an informed choice. … sadly there are many instances in which animals are mis-stunned and mis-slaughtered. In my research for the debate, I was horrified to realise that, each year, potentially hundreds of thousands of animals are not stunned properly before slaughter, yet data on the extent of the problem are practically non-existent.
1) b) Sir James Paice:(SE Cambs, Conservative): All kosher meat has to be killed by the shechita method, which is non-stunned, but not all halal meat is non-stunned. As he said, for 80% of halal meat the animal is electrically stunned first and then done in the normal way. Therefore, if he were to put halal on a label, he would be inviting people to discriminate on religious grounds as opposed to the welfare grounds of stunned or non-stunned.
2) Caroline Lucas (Greene, Brighton) we could also try to improve standards in all slaughterhouses, by for example supporting the campaign for mandatory CCTV? Even things that are technically legal often involve high levels of animal cruelty.
3) Philip Davies (Shipley cons): Of course, that is incredibly important, but many people of different religious views, such as Sikhs and Christians, object to the blessing given to halal meat. One interesting point was raised by Mr Hollobone and never answered: There was an interesting letter in last week’s Jewish Chronicle,of which I happen to be a weekly reader, from, presumably, a Jewish correspondent from Lancaster, who said: “The rabbinical interpretation has been made that the blood should be removed by drainage through a severed artery. And that is carried out by cutting the throat. However, I cannot see why having the animal anaesthetised, before its throat is cut, in any way detracts from the original biblical injunction not to consume animal blood. Perhaps a rabbi can explain where I am wrong. Is there really any religious reason that shechita might not include stunning of the cattle before their throats are cut?” I suggest that elements of the Jewish community do not quite understand where Shechita UK and other organisations are coming from. I can help Mr Hollobone here! the simple answer is twofold- that any form of anaesthetic would be regarded as an injury and render the animal non-kosher, or indeed, it introduces drungs into the food chain.
1) If we can be sure that the purpose of this debate is animal welfare, then there is a final point worth making: unless this issue is approached in a pan-European way and is properly informed by religious laws, any actions taken in the UK will drive trade to Europe. I cannot see how that helps animal welfare!
2) if the aim of the law is either anti-semitic or islamophobic, then
a) parallels must be drawn with the infamous fox-hunting law which -as far as I can see- has not helped foxes in the slightest, has led to a revival of the hunt community, precious few prosecutions and a general sense that the law as passed by the Blair government is a mess. It will take some years before it is repealed, but there is no doubt it will be repealed because it is a bad law. In UKIP, we must not select or support issues that will lead to bad legislation.
b) I hope we would recognise that it is wrong to pursue laws to threaten, punish, or limit the activities of our faith groups. The Tudors tried that and in the end, they failed. The Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 should be etched for ever in our minds, and we should not undermine the message it sends. It took years for that act to fully command popular support (indeed, the Queen opens parliament from a throne designed by Pugin, a man whose identity was hidden because he was a Catholic! Here is a picture of Pugin incidentally!) We cannot go back to the dark days.
For the record, here is my briefing about this to Stuart Agnew in UKIP:
Advice about Ritual slaughter
from TIM: on this issue, if halal and kosher meat is not properly labelled, it is an offence for sikhs to eat.
Showing our support for the Sikh community would send out a very positive message.
I am delighted that you now say the pre-stunning ideas are being abandoned.
This should not mean that we do not continue to campaign for humane killing and the wider care of animals going to slaughter.
However, I think it would be of great value to have a chat. The whole area of multi-faith intercourse has been my subject for many years. It seems to me that it is essential when dealing with religious matters that the spokesman is properly briefed and I regret that, I think you were left slightly on a limb over the Halal/kosher issue. What you have sent me today is a great relief and exactly the right approach to take!
I was invited to speak in a Mosque a few weeks ago, before I was selected and so now that invitation is under review by my slightly anxious hosts: I am not sure now whether they want to invite me to another venue or they may postpone the talk until after the election. Certainly, they are very worried about this issue in particular and about UKIP’s attitude towards Islam in general, which I have assured them and would assure them is not a problem at all.
I spent my first few years teaching in a Hassidic school in Stamford hill where I was accepted as part of the community because my mother is Jewish. Again, I understand at first hand what the issues are regarding religious observance and I have a friend who is in fact a Jewish shochet/butcher. We have already obliged Judaism to modify the method of ritual slaughter in the UK- animals are elsewhere slaughtered on their backs. One of the points, however, that Jewish butchers would make is that the animals are slaughtered individually and so no other animal witnesses the death of its kind: this will always be presented as primary evidence of the care taken and respect to animal welfare.
My own investigations regarding stunning in the regular meat process is fairly similar to yours- a marginal number of larger animals are not properly stunned (I would put the percentage slightly higher than 1%, but not much- the animal rights’ people have some fairly horrific photographs and reference, but it is, as you say, marginal), but there is a more serious issue with the electrocution and plucking of chickens which I think could benefit from further investigation, and seems to me to show signs that the animals are pretty routinely stressed.
Some of the Kosher meat that is on the wider market is meat that is quite edible by gentiles but that could not be eaten by Jews without the removal of the sciatic nerve – this removal has not been done in the UK within living memory, I gather- I see no problem with this getting into the ordinary meat market provided it is properly labelled. There is no question about either religion using non-religious butchers for the slaughter. In both traditions, this would render the meat unclean anyway. In addition, in the halal tradition, specific prayers are required to be said at the point of slaughter
UKIP is, however, not alone is uneasiness about slaughter that goes ahead without pre-stunning. There was some government sponsored research in 2003 by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and in New Zealand, Halal meat is routinely pre-stunned while kosher butchers post-stun seconds after cutting the throat.
More evidence would need to be assembled before we could mount any campaign against black-market meat from muslim farmers. This is a fairly recent law (1999) and there should be some evidence of transgression- are there police records or prosecutions? I can find no evidence. I think unless we have specific examples and rely only on hearsay, this would whip up an unnecessary storm and, with apologies for the mixed metaphor, we could well end up with egg on our faces!
Regarding my own religious background, I was brought up as a Catholic, briefly became a monk and have subsequently adopted Greek Orthodoxy having spent alot of time in both Greece and Russia. My godmother is a Russian nun who still lives on a remote island in the Shetlands!
Beyond this, I should add that I was brought up among the farms and horticultural industries of the fens, so again, there are points of reference that may be of use.
I look forward to talking.
I believe this is broadly-speaking the position adopted by UKIP now. Of course, essentially it is exactly what the current coalition Government has already agreed. But, I think a major achievement to have brought UKIP back from the initially racist and prejudiced proposals as reported in the Jewish Chronicle (see below)
INITIAL CORRESPONDENCE with Agnew:
This was in response to the following letter from MR Agnew which I hope you will notice is full of mis-understandings.
The law is presently being routinely broken. The Welfare of Animals (slaughter or killing) Regulations 1995 state
that animals must be pre-stunned. There is an exception (schedule 12 pt 2) for the food of Jews and the
food of Muslims. It also states that the slaughter man must be of the appropriate religion. Therefore, where Kosher and Halal meat are being consumed by non-Jews/Muslims, the law is being broken. UKIP will at the very least, make sure that the law is observed, because a very large quantity of Halal meat is being unwittingly consumed by non-Muslims. Political
correctness plays a part in this. However, it must be pointed out that three quarters of Halal meat is
pre-stunned. UKIP initially said it would ban non pre-stun, but now wishes to put the subject formally through its policy unit. We await the outcome of their deliberations. Whilst there is a headline attraction in such a ban, it could make
matters far worse, for the following reasons:
1) The killing will be done on farms owned by Muslins with no meat
inspection, no welfare inspector and sold into a black market with no traceability, or
2) The carcases will be imported from France, or elsewhere, where welfare concerns are low priority.There is also the likelihood of more sheep rustling from farms. Kosher meat is all non-pre-stun. Some of this (the
dearer cattle rump cuts, which are too expensive to porge) do enter the non-Jewish food chain. Animal
welfare at slaughter falls into three phases:
1) The handling of the animal from the pens and in the alleyway. It
is easy to induce a great deal of stress at this stage.
2) The effectiveness of the stunning, (mis-stuns are at least1%)
3) Where Halal/Kosher is used; the sharpness, length and weight of
the knife is very critical, along with the speed of the stroke and location of the incision. It is poor attention to
detail here that results in welfare problems. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when considering policy on this issue, so that the outcome of any change in the law does actually improve animal welfare
overall. I would add that UKIP is the only Party with a policy of banning the
live export of animals for slaughter. No other Party can offer this because it is in conflict with the EU’s
single market rules.
This is what the man said in the Jewish Chronicle which prompted my letter:
A senior Ukip member has claimed that the party’s ban on non-stun slaughter, announced today, was against his wishes. MEP Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, said:
“We are a democratic party and I couldn’t get enough support. They didn’t like my tolerance of non-stunning.
“They have decided to override me on this occasion. I’m not going to say they were wrong.”
But Mr Agnew said the policy was not meant to target shechita.
“This isn’t aimed at you – it’s aimed elsewhere – it’s aimed at others.
“You’ve been caught in the crossfire; collateral damage. You know what I mean.”
Food Standards Agency statistics indicate that kosher and halal abattoirs collectively cut the throats of 2.4 million sheep and goats without stunning them first. The latest FSA figures, from 2013, indicated that animals killed by the shechita method accounted for only 1 per cent of the total. Ukip is the first political party to announce that it would back a ban on non-stun slaughter, advocated by animal rights groups including the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association. Yesterday, the party’s national executive committee voted against Mr Agnew’s suggestion that stunning be permitted as long as kosher and halal meat was labelled.
Mr Agnew said he believed that the policy was put forward to win votes ahead of the general election.
He said: “There are more votes to be gained, and I expect that’s what they were looking for.
“We’ll have lost the Jewish vote for sure, they won’t support us now for sure – we won’t get any now.
“But we might gain votes elsewhere – and that’s what they’re after, general election votes.” He added: “It’s an emotional issue.”