Religious slaughter and the RSPCA

Gavin Grant,  chief executive of the RSPCA has promised that in coming months the RSPCA will set about trying to ban some of the ‘disgraceful’ slaughtering practices around Halal meat.  We are concerned that a high profile RSPCA campaign,  revolving around  political prosecutions of people who cannot afford to defend themselves, or of minority groups, will do little to improve the lives or deaths of animals but will undoubtedly fuel intolerance and discrimination.

What are the facts behind the issue?

In June 2009 the EU passed a law recognising the validity of religious slaughter.  Abbatoirs in the EU must stun all animals prior to slaughter unless they are being ritually killed for religious purposes.

The EU is considering legislation that would require Halal and Kosher meat products to carry a label stating that the animal was not stunned prior to slaughter.  Both Jewish and Muslim groups oppose the proposal. They claim that it is discriminatory and challenge claims that their methods of slaughter are inhumane.

Positions on religious slaughter vary around the world from country to country, and from political ideology to political ideology.

Last year Professor Bill Reilly, former president of the British Veterinary Association criticised the “unnaceptable” rise in the number of animals killed in ritual slaughter.

Writing in the Veterinary Record Professor Reilly said that if we cannot eliminate non-stunning we need to keep it to a minimum.  He suggests that meat slaughtered for religious reasons should be restricted to those communities only and that where possible attempts shoud be made to convince them of the acceptability of the stunned alternatives.

Under both Jewish and Islamic law animals must be healthy and uninjured at the time of death which is why they rule out pre-stunning, although some Muslim authorities accept some forms of pre-stunning providing they do not kill the animal.  Both faiths dispute claims of cruelty and believe that their method of one swift cut is kinder than other methods because the animal swiftly loses consciousness, bleeding to death.

At the time the statistics were collated Muslims made up only 3% of the UK population but it was estimated that Halal meat provided 25% of the meat market.  Around 20% of halal meat in the UK is from animals slaughtered with no form of stunning.   The remainder is from animals subjected to a method called ‘stun to stun’ which uses a much lower amperage than that recommended for an effective stun.  The Halal Food Authority have admitted that this method ensures that animals are “conscious” when killed.  Strangely the House of Commons Library Post Note on Religious Slaughter makes no mention of stun-to-stun.

Although Kosher slaughtered meat is a very small fraction of the total, it is estimated that 70% of Kosher meat enters the mainstream meat market.

A lot of the meat slaughtered under the religious exemption turns up on supermarket shelves or in ready made meals.

This meat enters the general market because some parts of the animal are forbidden under the dietary laws and it is the wrong cut of meat.  It is claimed that if the meat that is rejected is not allowed to enter the general food chain the religious slaughter operations will become less economically viable.

Public anger has focussed on the fact that there is no way for consumers to know how the food they are eating was slaughtered, whether it is meat bought from the supermarket, ready meals, or food provided by schools, places of work or restaurants.

Even MPs have been unknowingly served Halal meat in House of Commons restaurants, much to their annoyance.  In contrast, just over a year later,  Muslim MPs and Peers were told that they could not have Halal meat in the Palace of Westminster restaurants, despite having previously been assured that meat they were served was Halal, because it is offensive to many of their non-Muslim colleagues.

The government has claimed that there are practical difficuties in tracing where meat has come from in order to label the method of slaughter accurately.  Consumers might wonder how disease outbreaks will be tracked back to source if this proves to be the case.

In a consultation on changes in animal slaughter legislation the Scottish Government admitted that the placing of non-stunned meat slaughtered in the UK into the general food chain has been illegal since 1995.  They too claimed that the problem was one of traceability.

There are also difficulties in ascertaining the actual numbers of animals slaughtered, whether they are pre-stunned and if so, by what method.

For instance the EU Dialrel Project Data indicates that no poultry were slaughtered for Halal production without stunning but the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC), told The Muslim News that “Poultry certified by HMC is done without stunning.   HMC does not actually certify any abattoir as such, HMC certifies the poultry product that has been witnessed and labelled by the HMC inspectors on site at the time of slaughter.”

Where is the RSPCA in this debate?

Their current information sheet states that “Around 90% of Halal slaughter involves pre-stunning” but fails to mention that stun-to-stun is far less effective than normal stunning methods.

It states that less than 50% of meat slaughtered by Jewish methods is sold in Kosher shops, but fails to point out that this is a fraction of the amount of meat slaughtered by Halal methods.

They propose that religious groups should review their methods of slaughter and they support the proposed labelling of products to enable consumers to choose whether they want to buy meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning.

The RSPCA information sheet makes no mention of the illegality of meat from animals slaughtered under the religious exemptions being placed in the general food chain. They have brought no legal challenges to the failure of government to enforce the law.

Perhaps this would have been a better and more “reasonable and effective use of the charity’s resources” than their widely criticised prosecution of the Heythrop hunt.

The Christmas Puppies

We all know that you shouldn’t get a pet at Christmas or give one as a present, and we all know that (R)SPCAs and other welfare and AR groups wouldn’t dream of allowing it because so much is happening over the holiday that it would confuse and distress the animal. . .

Or would they?

The RSPCA in the UK certainly don’t think it is a bad thing for an animal to go to a new home for Christmas.  In November they were running an appeal for fosterers “willing to take in a cat or rabbit to care for over the festive period

Perhaps it is only dogs who become confused when introduced to Christmas festivities?

Not according to RSPCA Queensland in Australia.  Spokesman Michael Beatty said that it was a misconception that the RSPCA discouraged people from buying pets at Christmas.

The RSPCA actually encourages the responsible buying of pets and Mr. Beatty said that the Christmas holiday period is an an ideal time for the family to bond with their new pet and start training sessions.

They don’t, however, believe pets should be given as surprise gifts, and so have created a special gift voucher that recipients can redeem in person and choose a pet that suits them.

Sadly, in the UK, Sheffield RSPCA, along with many other RSPCA rehoming centers,  stops its adoption scheme in the build up to Christmas to prevent potentially irresponsible people from getting dogs as Christmas presents.

Eddie Waiting for a home for 12months

Eddie Waiting for a home for 12 months

Clyde, also waiting for a home after 12 months

Clyde, also waiting for a home after 12 months

Back in Australia RSPCA Queensland have no such worries. Under their Give a Dog a Home initiative this Christmas they have been adopting dogs over four months old for only $199 until the end of December.

and RSPCA New South Wales halved the adoption fee of all adult cats until the 24th December.

RSPCA Toowoomba shelter manager Cassie Walker with Willow, one of the many dogs up for adoption from the Toowoomba shelter.

RSPCA Toowoomba shelter manager Cassie Walker with Willow, one of the many dogs up for adoption from the Toowoomba shelter.

West Lothian Cats Protection in the UK never ever rehome a cat or kitten as a present for someone else and claim that many of those given as presents will find themselves homeless and abandoned by Boxing Day.

Both RSPCA (UK) and Animal Aid agree that pets should not be given as Christmas presents.  They describe pets as a ‘terrible present’ and the RSPCA suggests that people should instead make a donation to the RSPCA in ‘honour of your loved one’ this Christmas.

The Dogs Trust in the UK banned rehousing animals over the Christmas period, from December 20 to January 2nd, despite all its 18 rehousing centres nationwide being full. They claim this is to prevent unwanted pets being returned in the new year.

Are all Christmas gift dogs in the UK neglected and abandoned?  Clearly not!

A girl's best friend: Rosie Atkins gives new arrival Horatio a hug

A girl’s best friend: Rosie Atkins gives new arrival Horatio a hug

The moment people receive a puppy for Christmas is truly magical and guaranteed to put the smile back on your face and the festive joy back in your heart.

Meanwhile in the US Allen County SPCA in Indiana suggests giving animal lovers a Golden Ticket instead of a pet so that they can choose their own animal.  Cat golden tickets are $70 and Dogs are $85.

Back in Australia, Friends of RSPCA in Queensland started an urgent cat sale so they could start taking in pets dumped in the pound over Christmas.

The RSPCA shelter in Darwin is full of unwanted cats and dogs.

In New Zealand the Dunedin SPCA has offered a half-price adoption deal for female cats as their shelter is near full capacity.  They have asked people to make sure that pets given as Christmas presents are actually wanted.

The SPCA of Niagara in the US has beaten this by offering free dog adoptions until Christmas eve and by the 16th December had found new homes for more than 40 dogs, although, as they said,  the supply remained large.

By the 24th December the month long special at the no kill shelter had helped find homes for more than 70 dogs.  They too discourage the giving of pets as an unexpected gift.

Dogs and cats  at the Lakeland SPCA in Florida even found homes on Christmas eve as a long line formed around the building.

Kenneth Wingate, right, of Lakeland, waits in the packed lobby of the SPCA in Lakeland as he holds "Brandi," a 10-month-old female English pointer he and his wife, Pamela, adopted on Monday as a Christmas present for their 16-year-old daughter, Sommer. A large number of people came to the center to adopt pets on Christmas Eve.

Kenneth Wingate, right, of Lakeland, waits in the packed lobby of the SPCA in Lakeland as he holds “Brandi,” a 10-month-old female English pointer he and his wife, Pamela, adopted on Monday as a Christmas present for their 16-year-old daughter, Sommer. A large number of people came to the center to adopt pets on Christmas Eve.

SPCA Florida CEO Sean Hawkins said that although the center was supposed to close at 3 p.m. they planned to stay open long enough to take care of all the people who were in line by then.  He said they always encourage thoughtful additions of new family members during the holidays, and from December 16 to Saturday had reached 131 completed adoptions.

Cats were reduced from $55 to $10 with the second feline adoption fee being waived.

Large dogs, over 40 pounds were reduced from an average of $100 to $50, while small dogs were down from an average of $200 to $100.

Despite the tail wagging Christmas Eve joy over in Florida, an Australian Pet store in Adelaide, the Pet Spot, refused to sell puppies until after Christmas.

Back in New Zealand the Palmerston North SPCA urged peope to avoid buying animals as gifts except where it has been a family decision.  Staff have taken a hard line this year to prevent the SPCA becoming a ‘dumping ground’.  Their staff no longer go out and hunt for strays to take in for food and shelter.  Palmerston North SPCA has had a stong year prosecuting people.

Meanwhile, in the US the Christmas joy continued for the second Christmas adoption programme as Cumberland County South Jersey SPCA delivered pets on Christmas morning.

Cumberland County South Jersey SPCA delivered pets on Christmas morning

Cumberland County South Jersey SPCA delivered pets on Christmas morning

Volunteers placed kittens in the arms of excited children who were told that Santa’s helpers had a special delivery for them.  The kittens came with enough cat food and litter to get them through Christmas Day.

Some of the cats, kittens and puppies were taken home before the big day.

The programme started after a volunteer saw another shelter in Texas doing the same.

They seem to have got it right.

Delighted,  Jackson and Olivia played with the kittens in front of their Christmas tree and appeared oblivious to the fact they were surrounded by other gifts.

“These are the best kittens ever,” Olivia said.

A Christmas wish come true

A Christmas wish come true

Still in the US, at North Country SPCA, New York,  the 31 Cats of December featured thirty-one very special cats, many of whom were long term residents of the shelter, whose adoption fee was waived until the end of the month.

The SPCA of Cincinnati found homes for 2000 more animals in 2012 than last year, the increase being partly fuelled by low adoption costs of $20 for dogs and $10 for cats.  They ran extended holiday adoption hours right up to 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Back in the UK again, the Scottish SPCA is not rehoming young animals between 20 December and 3 January to “prevent them being taken on by someone who wants a new pet for Christmas and hasn’t fully thought through their decision” according to Superintendent Sharon Comrie.

The SSPCA had 804 animals in their care on Christmas Day.

And now that Christmas is over, who got it right?  The answer is your answer to the question:

If you were a child or a pound puppy this Christmas,  how would you rather have spent the holiday season?