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Beef and Lamb All Party Group publishes report into religious slaughter

Beef and Lamb All Party Group publishes report into religious slaughter

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday August 05 2014

The Beef and Lamb All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) have published a report following an inquiry into improving animal welfare at the time of slaughter of domestic produce in the UK with particular focus upon religious slaughter.

The APPG, with due regard for the sensationalist media reporting that has accompanied the issue, acknowledges that “the debate and coverage in the press to date on the topic of meat slaughtered in accordance with religious rites has been polarised and that a broader and more measured view needs to be taken.”

The Inquiry obtained written evidence and carried out oral evidence sessions with a wide range of stakeholders such as industry experts, Shechita UK, the Halal Food Authority, veterinary professionals, the Farming Minister George Eustice and the European Commission.

Focusing on halal and kosher slaughter methods, the Inquiry explored the following questions:

  • Is there a difference in the pain experienced by an animal killed without stunning versus one killed with stunning?
  • What scientific evidence is available to support the position that one method is more humane than another method?
  • Are there any alternative stunning applications e.g. post-cut stunning that could be used as an alternative to conventional, pre-cut stunning. What is the available evidence that these improve or reduce animal welfare?
  • How can labelling be improved to enable consumers to make better informed choices about the meat they consume and what information should this labelling contain?
  • Are there examples of best practice that the UK can learn from overseas?

The report notes that around 80% of meat slaughtered for halal consumption is stunned prior to cutting on the basis that stunning ‘is designed not to kill’. It also notes the conditions placed on the use of stunning prior to cutting with a representative from the Halal Food authority noting ‘captive bolt stunning is not acceptable because it will smash the brain and that will be in addition to the earlier blow. That would cause death well before the [intended] cause of death [the cut].’

The report also notes that some Muslims do not accept pre-stunning as an acceptable form of halal slaughter on the basis of doubt over whether the cause of death of the animal is the stun or the cut. While in the case of kosher meat, or shechita, only the cut is acceptable.

The report argues for more research into the area to address the concerns raised by proponents of halal slaughter of whether stunning would result in more blood remaining in stunned meat than would be the case without stunning.

The APPG observes the written evidence submitted by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), which has led the campaign for a ban on non-stunned slaughter, on the issue of post-cut stunning. The BVA stated:

“BVA recognises that, while pre-stunning is superior in terms of animal welfare, should non-stun slaughter continue to be permitted, post-cut stunning offers a valid means of reducing the suffering of animals at slaughter. Therefore the option of post-cut stunning is not equivalent to pre-cut stunning, but presents a highly desirable option if government policy does not change.”

However, the APPG interestingly points out its discovery that the shechita slaughter is permitted in the United States of America as a humane form of slaughter in its own right, and not as a derogation.

The APPG inquiry further notes research conducted by the University of Hanover in Germany which indicates that religious slaughter is a humane method. The research was presented by advocates of non-stun halal and shechita methods in their evidence to the Inquiry.

Regarding the measurement of pain experienced by animals at the time of slaughter, the inquiry notes Shechita UK’s written evidence:

“It is impossible for any scientific study to make and accurate or conclusive assessment of pain felt by an animal at the point of slaughter because pain is a subjective phenomenon and there are no definitive objective ways of quantifying it”.

The report refers to an interesting point of detail in relation to research conducted on pain at slaughter with a Veterinary Adviser at Defra, Rebeca Garcia Pinillos, stating that much of the department’s research focussing on pain at slaughter had been done in conjunction with halal slaughter and not shechita slaughter. The available research perhaps explains, to some degree, the focus on halal meat in debates about how humane religious slaughter is.

The APPG nonetheless recommends more research to address the ‘knowledge deficit’ on ‘whether or not the cut is painful’.

The APPG further highlights many religious groups’ concerns that the welfare of animals may be compromised by the dangers posed by mis-stunning deeming them “legitimate concerns”. The APPG consequently recommends that statistical data on mis-stunning as well as mis-slaughtering in both stunned and non-stunned animals be made available.

The APPG also recommends that although more work be done to clarify what the terms halal and kosher specifically entail and that food labelling be grounded on a stun vs. non-stun basis rather than on a halal vs. kosher basis. The report further notes that labelling would permit Muslims opposed to non-stun slaughter to make informed choices about their meat consumption. An interesting counter-argument is advanced by the British Meat Processors Association which is opposed to compulsory labelling claiming that it would add an unnecessary administrative burden on the industry and because it believes ‘most consumers have no wish to know the details of how animals are slaughtered’.

The report stresses that food labelling should only be pursued “if a compelling case can be made that is in the consumers’ interest.”

It suggests this can be determined through consumer attitudes surveys towards meat labelling to explore whether the public would like meat to be labelled to indicate whether it was stunned or not and any additional information such as the type of stun and whether it satisfies religious requirements.

The report remains open to the possibility of CCTV being introduced into abattoirs to monitor religious slaughter and to ensure compliance with regulations on hygiene and animal welfare.

In this respect, the European Commission is currently undertaking a study on labelling meat which is slaughtered in accordance with religious rites in particular to explore consumers’ desirability of labelling and any consequences. George Eustice MP in his evidence to the Inquiry noted the perverse impact of the UK’s ‘heightened’ debate on religious slaughter on the progress of the Commission’s study.

The APPG also looked at issues concerning certification bodies. The APPG report can be found here.


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