Halal and kosher meat is making front page news, with the question of whether meat in restaurants and supermarkets should be labelled as 'halal'. But in my eyes, the real issue is whether animals are being stunned prior to slaughter or not.
EU and UK law requires that all animals must be stunned before slaughter. However there is an exemption for religious communities. A loophole that must be closed.
There is irrefutable scientific evidence that animals slaughtered without stunning suffer extreme pain, distress and anxiety. The European Food Safety Authority has said that: "due to the serious animal welfare concerns associated with slaughter without stunning, pre-cut stunning should always be performed". Stunning an animal before it is slaughtered is vitally important as it renders that animal insensible to pain before being killed. Currently, more than 80% of animals slaughtered for halal meat in the UK are stunned before being killed. This figure alone shows that there is widespread acceptance within the Muslim community that pre-slaughter stunning can be halal.
As it stands, the other 20% or so of these animals will have their throats cut whilst fully conscious. These animals can be in extreme pain for minutes. All animals slaughtered for kosher meat will be conscious when killed.
I have absolute respect for religious beliefs. However, I don't believe that animal welfare should be brushed under the carpet in the name of religion. Animals slaughtered for food deserve more than that.
In the UK, 1.4 million sheep and goats, 32 million chickens and 70,000 cattle are slaughtered without being stunned each year. What strikes me as doubly unacceptable is that the number of sheep being slaughtered without being stunned, outstrips demand from religious communities. Some abattoirs may be slaughtering more animals this way as a matter of commercial convenience.
As an urgent interim measure I would like to see all meat from animals that were not stunned before slaughter to be labelled as such so that consumers can make an informed choice about the meat they eat.
The UK Government needs to have the courage to close the exemption that allows animals to be slaughtered for religious purposes without stunning.
Compassion in World Farming is supporting a petition by the British Veterinary Association to end slaughter without stunning in the UK.