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.
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.
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.