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Government faces calls to curb 'religious slaughter'

Government faces calls to curb 'religious slaughter'

Categories: Latest News

Monday May 28 2012

BBC News today carries a report claiming that the Government may take steps to curb ‘religious slaughter’ in the UK. Current provisions allow for the practice of religious slaughter consistent with the religious requirements and dietary habits of Muslims and Jews.

The issue of ‘stunning’ animals before slaughter was recently raised by Professor Bill Reilly, ex-president of the British Veterinary Association, who claimed animals slaughtered according to the halal method far exceeded the proportion of Muslims in the UK.

From the BBC:

“The government is facing renewed calls to curb the slaughtering of animals that have not first been rendered unconscious – a debate that pits religious sensitivities against the convictions of animal welfare campaigners.

“Senior Conservative backbencher Greg Knight has told MPs that the practice of slaughtering cattle, lambs and chickens in this way is “rife”.

“The law demands that animals be stunned before they are killed – by electrocution, gassing, or shooting retractable rods into their brains – but there are exemptions for animals to be killed according to Jewish and Muslim traditions, without stunning them first.

“In the Commons on Thursday, Mr Knight described these exemptions as “unacceptable”.
“The previous week, Conservative MP for Ealing Central and Acton Angie Bray claimed that “more than 25% of meat sold in our shops comes from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter”.

“And last month, Tory MP for Shipley Philip Davies launched a bid to change the law to ensure that halal and kosher meat on sale in shops and eateries was labelled as such.

“Kosher meat is not processed in the UK from animals stunned prior to slaughter.

“But EU research from 2006 indicated that 75% of cattle, 93% of sheep and 100% of chickens slaughtered in the UK for halal meat were stunned prior to their deaths. Figures produced by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2011 give a similar picture: 84%, 81% and 88%, respectively.

“Meanwhile, Denmark and New Zealand have both legislated to ensure that all animals killed for halal meat are stunned first.

“So labelling meat as halal will not fully achieve Mr Davies’ objective, since consumers will be unaware whether the animal had been stunned or not.

“MPs were quick to point out flaws in Mr Davies’s bill, before voting to consign it to the legislative scrap heap by a majority of just three.

The article states that Sir Gerald Kaufman, a former Labour MP has accused Davies of having “picked on two small minorities”.

It is important to point out here that the issue of ritual slaughter in the UK and Europe is often referred to in the context of the Muslim community as the problem, or as an issue of the ‘Islamisation’ of the west. The mass media in particular, have a tendency to overlook ritual slaughter in the Jewish community. Take for example this report in the Daily Mail, where a halal abattoir was visited as an investigation into ritual slaughter, but the Daily Mail took no initiative to visit a Jewish abattoir, to which concerns about ritual slaughter extend.

The BBC article continues:

“While committing itself to the principle of providing accurate information to consumers, the government has warned that there are “real practical difficulties in establishing traceability to identity method of slaughter to the point of consumption”.

“Finding out exactly how much halal and kosher meat is being sold in the UK is also problematic, since accurate data on the subject is not gathered.

“Ms Bray’s 25% figure for halal meat appears to be based on a recent article by former president of the British Veterinary Association, Bill Reilly – but he emphasises that some of these animals would have been stunned before slaughter.

“The FSA estimates that less than 1% of all meat produced in the UK is kosher.

“Although no changes to the current regime on religious slaughter are mooted in a new EU directive on animal welfare, due to come into force in January 2013, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister James Paice has noted that “member states can impose stricter rules in relation to religious slaughter if they wish”.

“He added: “I am currently considering what might be done to improve welfare in this context.”

“The UK government plans to consult on how to bring the directive into force later this year, giving an opportunity for both proponents and opponents of the current regime to rekindle the debate.”

Whilst the issue of consumers making informed choices is an important one, religious slaughter and halal meat specifically has increasingly featured in broader debates about Muslim communities in Europe. The issue was one of the focal points of the recent presidential elections in France, with the leader of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen claiming that “All the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception.”

In the UK, the Daily Mail has been intent on agitation on the issue with a number of alarmist and scaremongering articles on halal meat. As Mehdi Hasan argued in the New Statesman cover story earlier this month, ‘halal hysteria’ has become a “proxy for deep fears about Muslims in our midst”:

“With the threat from terrorism receding, Britain’s Islam-baiters have jumped on the anti-halal bandwagon, and not just the neo-fascists of the British National Party and the English Defence League, which has a page on its website devoted to its (anti-) “halal campaign”, but mainstream commentators, too,“ he wrote.

Hasan reiterates arguments we’ve posted here before. That is, why the disproportionate focus on ‘halal’ and not ‘kosher’ when the requirement of religious slaughter extends to both British Muslim and Jewish communities? Moreover, with the amount of attention accorded to animal welfare concerns, why the paucity of articles on modern farming techniques and animal rearing? Why is it that such regard is conveniently tacked on to articles disparaging methods used to produce halal meat?

Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University, tells Hasan, “The truth is that halal has become a proxy for much deeper fears and concerns about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population in our midst.

“It’s being used as a political issue, especially by xenophobic and Islamophobic folks, to whip up a backlash against ‘the other.”


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