The Times front page today returns to the campaign by the president-elect of the British Veterinarian Association, John Blackwell, to push for a ban on non-stunned slaughter of meat in the UK (see also Daily Telegraph).
Blackwell in an interview with The Times last March, expressed his desire to see stunning adopted as a practice in the UK overriding exemptions currently in place to allow Muslim and Jewish dietary laws to be observed.
The Times front page today relays statistics from the latest survey published by the Food Standards Agency yesterday which the BVA claims show that halal slaughter methods that do not use pre-stunning have “soared because of campaigning by Muslims for traditional methods of slaughter.”
The BVA suggests that halal and kosher slaughter has increased by 60% in the last year comparing survey results from 2012 and 2013. But the FSA claims the surveys are not directly comparable because of the different sample sizes used to generate the figures on animal slaughter from red and white meat slaughterhouses in the different years. The FSA acknowledged an increase in the non-stunned slaughter of sheep and goats from 2011 to 2013 stating there had been an increase of 5% over the two year period, up from 10 to 15%.
From the FSA’s latest survey, statistics on halal slaughter (taken from a representative sample from 301 slaughterhouses over one week in September 2013) show that of the 44,216 cattle slaughtered, 1,437 (3%) were slaughtered by the halal method and from which 366 were not stunned before slaughter, accounting for 0.8% of total cattle slaughtered.
The total number of sheep and goats slaughtered in 2013 was 295,000 of which 121,472 (41%) were slaughtered using the halal method. Of these 44,950 were not stunned prior to slaughter, accounting for 15.2% of the total.
And 17,067,641 poultry was slaughtered of which 3,667,593 (21%) used the halal method and from which 572,405 were not stunned prior to slaughter, accounting for 15.6% of the total.
The FSA survey states, “The results indicate overall that the number of animals not stunned prior to slaughter accounted for 2% of cattle, 15% of sheep and goats and 3% of poultry.”
The proportions are significant when one considers the amount of attention the issue of halal meat in the UK has generated. The proportions are also significant when one considers the emphasis placed by the BVA and other animal rights organisations on animal welfare concerns arising from religious slaughter with no comparable regard, according to Muslim and Jewish representative bodies, for “mis-stunning” which can cause considerable pain to animals too.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph last year Muslim and Jewish representatives responded to calls by animal welfare activists for clearer food labelling guidelines on stunned and non-stunned slaughter saying, “They [consumers] should also be told the method of slaughter: captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping, clubbing or any of the other approved methods.
“Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike.
“It would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.
The Times front page story follows news coverage yesterday of the BVA petition calling for an end to non-stun slaughter passing the 100,000 signatures threshold necessary to prompt a backbench debate on the issue.
Blackwell told the paper, “We urge the chairman of the backbench business committee to honour the epetition and pledge that an end to non-stun slaughter will be debated at the first opportunity in the next parliament.”
The Times in an editorial today has thrown its weight behind the BVA campaign stating “If ministers want to see animals slaughtered humanely, they have the powers and the public support to make it so. It is disingenuous to take any other course.”
The editorial refers to the traditional method observed by some Muslims, who prefer non-stunned slaughter in their definition of constitutes halal, as “backwardness” stating “There is no sound justification for this cruelty. It is not a matter of religion, but a question of unnecessary pain and anguish. The British Veterinary Association has led a compelling campaign for a law that would oblige abattoirs to numb all animals before slaughter.”
While The Times and the BVA are within rights to consider religious slaughter “cruelty” to animals, any attempt to compel politicians to act in favour of a ban is likely to conflict with Article 9 of the European Convention with the European Court of Human Rights upholding the view that religious slaughter is a “religious act”.