- This note describes the methods of slaughter used by the Jewish and Muslim religions. EU law, like UK law before it, requires farm animals to be stunned before slaughter, but there is an exception for religious slaughter.
- The Jewish method of slaughter, Shechita, requires animals not to be stunned before slaughter. Islamic food rules, for Halal meat, can be satisfied with animals stunned before slaughter if animals do not die as a result of the stun, but there is no definitive consensus and slaughter without pre-stunning does also take place.
- Much of the meat on an animal killed by Shechita may not qualify as Kosher meat. There is no requirement that it should be labelled as meat from an animal killed without pre- stunning.
- The Coalition Government has no intention of making Halal or Shechita slaughter illegal, but it is considering welfare labelling of meat.
- Food Standards Agency figures in 2012, the first since 2003, show that more than 80% of animals are stunned before slaughter for Halal meat in the UK.
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- 1 Legislation 2
- 2 The extent of religious slaughter – most Halal meat pre-stunned 4
- 3 Labelling 5
- 3.1 Why labelling is important 5
- 3.2 Philip Davies Ten Minute Rule Bill on labelling, April 2012 5
- 3.3 The Government position 7
- 4 A challenge to the current system 9
British legislation, now implementing EC legislation, requires the pre-stunning of animals before slaughter in normal circumstances, so that in the absence of mis-stuns death should be painless. Religious slaughter, on the other hand, is a controversial issue, because the animals are not stunned. The requirement in British legislation for the pre-stunning of animals in slaughterhouses has always provided exemptions for the Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter. The Jewish method of slaughter is called Shechita. Food fulfilling the requirements of Jewish law is called Kosher. The Muslim method is called Halal. The exemption dates back to the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1928 and the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933 (which applied to England and Wales). Schedule 12 of The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (SI 731) lays down provisions for slaughter by a religious method, additional to EU law.1
The exemption for religious slaughter in Schedule 12 of The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (SI 731) 1995 makes clear that it relates to a method of slaughter for people of that religion, not for everybody:
Slaughter by a religious method
2. In this Schedule references to slaughter by a religious method are references to slaughter without the infliction of unnecessary suffering—
(a) by the Jewish method for the food of Jews by a Jew who holds a licence in accordance with Schedule 1 (which relates to the licensing of slaughtermen) and who is duly licensed—
(i) in England and Wales by the Rabbinical Commission referred to in Part IV of this Schedule; or
(ii) in Scotland by the Chief Rabbi; or
(b)by the Muslim method for the food of Muslims by a Muslim who holds a licence in accordance with Schedule 1.
EU law on slaughter is now contained in Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing. Paragraph 18 of the preamble explains the position on religious slaughter:
Derogation from stunning in case of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses was granted by Directive 93/119/EC. Since Community provisions applicable to religious slaughter have been transposed differently depending on national contexts and considering that national rules take into account dimensions that go beyond the purpose of this Regulation, it is important that derogation from stunning animals prior to slaughter should be maintained, leaving, however, a certain level of subsidiarity to each Member State. As a consequence, this Regulation respects the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, as enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Most proposals for change relate to labelling, discussed below. However, in June 2011 the Dutch Parliament – but not the Senate – voted to ban religious slaughter without pre- stunning. The Jewish community condemned the move:
Binyomin Jacobs, the country’s Chief Rabbi, has compared the ban to anti-Semitic laws enacted during the Nazi occupation that led to the death of 104,000 Dutch Jews in the Holocaust. “One of the first measures taken during the occupation was the closing of kosher abattoirs,” he said. Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, joined the campaign attempting to block the ban last week.
1 million Dutch Muslims will be affected by the ban. Representatives of 40,000 Jews have also condemned the decision.2
However, the measure also needed to pass the Senate. The Senate was likely to oppose the ban, and a compromise has been reached:
“Dutch outlaw Kosher and Halal slaughter”, Daily Telegraph, 29 June 2011
Earlier this year, the lower house of the parliament passed by a wide majority a law introduced by the Animal Rights Party (PvdD) that would have banned ritual slaughter in the Netherlands outright. Passage of the law was seen as a milestone in the burgeoning animal rights movement. But this week, the Senate was set to reject the proposed law.
That a majority in the Senate are against the ban was met with great relief in the Muslim and Jewish communities. But it did not solve the issue. Since the law had passed the lower house by such a wide margin, the Senate’s imminent rejection is seen as obstructionist, an uncommon interference by a body of the government which is not directly elected. It would have thwarted the public will. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture promised to find a compromise which would satisfy the objections of the Senate (that the ban infringed on the right to religious freedom) while meeting the will of the lower house to limit the suffering of animals.
The covenant is seen as having bridged that gap. The measures stipulated by the covenant include the following: a veterinarian must be present during the slaughter (this is already the case for Jewish slaughterhouses); the animal must die within 40 seconds, otherwise the veterinarian must step in and kill the animal; animals must be inspected before slaughter and can be rejected on the basis of overall weight and size of neck. The new protocol will be overseen by a committee of scientists.
3 4 5 6
“Dutch compromise on ritual slaughter”, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 6 June 2012 HC Deb 19 October 2010 c632W
Meat Hygiene Service, Animal Welfare Review 2003, pp13-4
HC Deb 27 April 2011 c413W
So the Dutch tradition of compromise appears to have won the day. Except that the very party which started the whole discussion about ritual slaughter is not satisfied. Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme says the new agreement looks very much like a proposed amendment to her law. The amendment called for many of the same measures called for by the covenant. But back when the law to ban ritual slaughter passed the lower house by 116 votes to 30 votes, the compromise amendment failed by a similar margin.
Ms Thieme says nothing has changed since last year. A compromise unacceptable to the lower house of parliament, the ultimate representative of the popular will, should remain unacceptable today.3
2 The extent of religious slaughter – most Halal meat pre-stunned
Complete statistics of religious slaughter are not kept, and the Government said in October 2010 that it did not know the number of Halal slaughterhouses.4 The Meat Hygiene Service [MHS] Animal Welfare Review 2003 contained some information, although obviously the situation has changed considerably since then.5 Those figures showed the vast majority of Halal meat coming from animals that were stunned before slaughter.
A PQ in 2011 produced some more recent figures, again suggesting that most Halal meat comes from animals that were stunned before slaughter:
More recent data collected by the EU Dialrel project see:
shows that, of the UK abattoirs surveyed, 100% of the animals and birds slaughtered for the production of kosher meat were slaughtered without prior stunning. For halal meat, 25% of cattle and 7% of sheep were slaughtered without prior stunning. The Dialrel data also indicates that no poultry were slaughtered for halal production without stunning.6
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published figures in 2012 based on a survey of slaughterhouses in September 2011:
4.14 A total of 43,772 cattle / calves were slaughtered at 194 establishments, of which:
- 1,314 (3%) were slaughtered by the Shechita (Jewish) method at 4 establishments, with 10% of these were stunned immediately after bleeding.
- 1,727 (4%) were slaughtered by the Halal (Muslim) method at 16 establishments. 84% of these were stunned before slaughter, and less than 1% stunned after bleeding.
4.15 A total of 307,512 sheep and goats were slaughtered at 202 establishments, of which:
- 1,917 (less than 1%) were slaughtered by the Shechita (Jewish) method (all not stunned) at 4 establishments
- 154,795 (50%) were slaughtered by the Halal (Muslim) method at 39 establishments. 81% of these were stunned before slaughter and less than 1% stunned after bleeding.
4.16 A total of 16,101,844 poultry were slaughtered at 73 establishments, of which:
• 71,236 (less than 1%) were slaughtered by the Shechita (Jewish) method (all not stunned) at 5 establishments
• 4,766,237 (30%) were slaughtered by the Halal (Muslim) method at 29 establishments. 88% of these were stunned before slaughter.
4.17 The results indicate that the number of animals not stunned prior to slaughter is relatively low, accounting for 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry. They also show that the majority of animals destined for the Halal trade in both the red and white meat sectors are stunned before slaughter.7
In both Denmark and New Zealand pre-stunning is a legal requirement for Halal slaughter, with the consent of the Muslim population.8
However, there is no single authoritative body that can definitively rule as to the Muslim law on the issue of stunning thus leaving individual Muslim consumer requirements as often being the primary market driver. Shechita slaughter, necessary for orthodox Jews, always requires that the animal is not pre-stunned.
3.1 Why labelling is important
Another important issue relates to labelling. Much of the meat from animals slaughtered by religious methods is not sold as such, because it comes from the wrong cut of meat. Many people believe that if such meat had to be labelled as coming from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning, they would not buy it. That might undermine the economics of Kosher meat. Proposals for such labelling requirements have tentatively appeared in EC documents, but have always been fiercely resisted.
3.2 Philip Davies Ten Minute Rule Bill on labelling, April 2012
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat and products containing halal and kosher meat by retailers at the point of sale; and for connected purposes.
He stressed that he did not want to ban Halal or Kosher meat, but wanted to increase freedom of choice:
Food Standards Agency, Results of the 2011 FSA animal welfare survey in Great Britain, 22 May 2012 Report on the Welfare of Livestock when Slaughtered by Religious Methods, Farm Animal Welfare Council HMSO 1985, p.40
I propose to make labelling of halal and kosher meat compulsory, because as a strong believer in freedom of choice, I think one of the consumer’s fundamental rights is to know what they are purchasing. At present, consumers cannot satisfy their preferences because not all meat products are labelled, so legislation to require retailers of meat to label their products is essential to enable consumers to practise their right to make an informed decision.
According to the EU Dialrel project, the exemption for religious slaughter in schedule 12 of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 clearly states that it applies to people of that religion, not to everybody. This implies that halal and kosher meat should be consumed by those of Muslim and Jewish faiths, respectively, because this type of slaughter is specified for their religious needs. This is obviously not the case at present because Muslims make up around 3% of the UK population, yet the Halal Food Authority estimates that halal meat makes up about 25% of the meat market. Similarly, it has been estimated that 70% of the kosher meat was not consumed by the Jewish community.
There have been cases of state schools, hospitals, pubs, sports arenas, cafes, markets and hotels serving halal meat to customers without their knowledge. In fact, many of my hon. Friends may be interested to know that, according to The Scotsman in November 2010, halal meat has even been served without labelling in House of Commons canteen. To my dismay as a former retailer, I recently learned that Britain’s largest supermarket chains, including Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, are selling halal meat without notifying unsuspecting shoppers. Some of the large food chains, including Pizza Hut, Dominos and KFC, are doing the same. I am ashamed to say that even my former employer, Asda, has been guilty of this.
If consumers knew what kind of meat was being sold to them, many might decide to make different purchases. For example, in August 2010 there were protests when Harrow council announced its plan to serve halal-only menus in the borough’s state primary schools. Parents complained that it was unfair that meat slaughtered according to sharia law was being forced upon non-Muslim children.
There are some people who wish to ban halal and kosher meat on animal welfare grounds. I want to make it clear that I am not one of those people. I am very happy for people to make the decision for themselves, but they should be able to make an informed decision. My Bill would benefit those people who want to make sure that their meat is kosher or halal before purchasing it, just as much as those who want to make sure that it is not kosher or halal before purchasing it. My Bill does not favour one or the other; it seeks to help everybody.
Interestingly, Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, in September 2010, said:
“As Muslims have a choice of eating halal meat, non-Muslims should also have the choice of not eating it. Customers should know it is halal meat.”9
Sir Gerald Kaufmann opposed the Bill:
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I oppose the Bill. I declare an interest. I am an orthodox Jew and I was brought up in a household where only kosher meat was eaten. None of these issues was raised throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
HC Deb 24 April 2012 cc823-5
I do not believe for a moment that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has the tiniest anti-Semitic feeling in him and I am sure that he is not proposing the Bill for that reason. However, large numbers of Jews would be very greatly distressed if what he proposes were to become law. I speak not only about Jews, but Muslims. I represent many thousands of Muslims in my constituency—good, decent, law-abiding people who, because of their religious allegiance, will eat only halal meat. I do not see why Jews and Muslims alone should be compelled by law to have the meat they eat labelled in a way that no other meat is labelled.
If the hon. Gentleman’s proposed Bill had a wider remit—for example, if it said that all chickens had to be labelled in a certain way if the birds had been battery hens—or if he had proposed that meat had to be labelled in a certain way if the animals had been kept in dreadful conditions before being killed, and killed in an extremely brutal way, as shown in the documentary narrated by Sir Paul McCartney, which revealed the astonishing, abominable and utterly dreadful conditions in which large numbers of animals, whether cows, pigs or whatever, are kept, I would at least regard him as consistent. But he is not being consistent. He has picked on two small minorities who share the way in which the meat they eat is killed. Indeed, when Muslims first came to Manchester and Leeds and wanted their animals killed in a halal way, they went to Jewish slaughter houses in order to do so.
During my whole upbringing, I ate only kosher meat. I am afraid that I did not keep to that in later years, but I still will not eat pigmeat of any kind because my mother and father brought me up in such a way that that meat is what we call “trayf” in Yiddish, and I will not eat trayf food. I think that the hon. Gentleman is picking out two small minority religions that have a special way in which the meat they eat is killed and asking that they, and they alone, have their meat labelled.
I say this as someone who has spoken on animal welfare in this House for many years. I was the leading person who got the hunting ban passed, because of my understanding of the procedures of this House—I say that with some vanity, but it is a fact. I have been involved in the campaign to ban the keeping of wild animals in circuses, something on which I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman as having been hyperactive.
The proposed Bill would have profound implications for religious feelings, and I would be letting my faith and my family down, alongside many good, decent, fine and religious Muslims in my constituency, if I did not state my total opposition to it. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman withdraw the motion so that the House does not even have to vote on it.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23). The House divided:
Ayes 70, Noes 73.
3.3 The Government position
In May 2012 the Government explained its position, and what the EU was doing: Halal Meat: Labelling
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the extent to which Halal products are sold without being labelled as such in (a) supermarkets and (b) restaurants and cafes.
Mr Paice: There is no legislative requirement for products to be labelled as Halal, so no formal attempt has been made to collect data on the extent to which Halal products are sold without being labelled as such. In principle we support the need for accurate information for consumers, but there are real practical difficulties in establishing traceability to identity method of slaughter to the point of consumption.
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent discussions she has had on the compulsory labelling of halal products.
Mr Paice: I met with members of the food and food processing industries in early 2011 to discuss method of slaughter labelling. We are currently reviewing the way the welfare of animals is protected during religious slaughter as we make preparations to implement EU Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, from 1 January 2013. Meetings with members of the Jewish and Muslim communities took place during 2011 and the early part of 2012 in this context.
In principle we support the need for accurate information for consumers but there are real practical difficulties in establishing traceability to identify method of slaughter for all meat and meat products from the point of slaughter to the point of consumption. An amendment to require food labels to indicate whether an animal has been stunned before slaughter was proposed last year by the European Parliament in the context of proposals for an EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation. This proposal was not taken up but, in subsequent discussions, a compromise agreement was reached which highlighted the importance of this issue. This proposed that the issue should be considered by the EU Commission in a welfare context as part of the anticipated discussion on the EU welfare strategy. The Commission has recently published a communication on the Strategy for the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2012-15 which confirms the Commission will be studying labelling as provided for in the agreement reached on the Food Information for Consumers Regulation. We look forward to early consideration of the Commission’s proposals.10
Another PQ in March 2012 announced a consultation on welfare:
Mr Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will take steps to make the halal slaughter process more humane; and if she will make a statement.
Mr Paice: The Government are committed to ensuring a secure, environmentally sustainable and healthy supply of food with improved standards of animal welfare. This includes the supply of meat slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities are aware of this and I have had discussions with them and sought their views, about improving the welfare of animals slaughtered for religious purposes without stunning.
We do not to intend to ban religious slaughter, and we respect the rights of religious groups to practice their beliefs. Directive 93/119 on the welfare of animals at slaughter and killing will be replaced by regulation 1099/2009 in January 2013. This regulation allows slaughter without stunning in accordance with religious rites to continue. However individual member states can impose stricter rules in relation to religious slaughter if they wish and I am currently considering what might be done to improve welfare in this context. We will be consulting formally on implementation of regulation 1099/2009 in England later this year.11
- 10 HC Deb 1 May 2012 cc1386-7
- 11 HC Deb 8 March 2012 c837W
4 A challenge to the current system
Bill Reilly, a past president of the British Veterinary Association argued in May 2012 that the current situation was not acceptable. Slaughter without stunning caused suffering:
I do not believe that there is any scientifically robust evidence to support the contention that non-stun slaughter has the welfare of the animal at its core. I do accept that the initial religious texts reflected concern with the health and welfare of animals and were a major step forward in protection for both humans and animals. Since that time science and practice have developed that allow us to go further to protect both human health, through the development of meat hygiene, and animal welfare, by the practice of stunning. (…)
He noted that the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council considered slaughter without stunning to be unacceptable. He noted that the Dialrel Project, an EU-funded project aimed at encouraging dialogue on issues of religious slaughter, involving partners from 11 countries between 2006 and 2010, reported similar findings:
Its report (von Holleben and others 2010) considered more than 200 references and found “it can be stated with the utmost probability that animals feel pain during and after the throat cut without prior stunning…because substantial tissue damage is inflicted to areas well supplied with nocireceptors and subsequent perception of pain is not exclusively related to the quality of the cut”. The report also recognised that “neck cutting without stunning poses the highest risk for the cut and during bleeding imposes extra manipulation to the animal. Additionally, pain, suffering and distress during the cut and bleeding are highly likely”.
His main complaint relates to the spread of Halal food beyond the Muslim community:
The Halal Food Authority estimated a 30% growth in 2006 and that the Halal share is now 25% of the entire UK meat market, yet the Muslim community represents only some 3 or 4% of the UK population.12
Reilly wrote his article just before publication by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of the first statistics for several years on the extent of pre-stunning of Halal meat in the UK. Those figures, quoted in the next section, show the extent of pre-stunning of animals for Halal meat to be far higher than he supposed. In addition to wanting to replace slaughter without stunning and restrict it to the religious community, Reilly made some suggestions for improving welfare for animals that are not stunned:
Refining the non-stun slaughter process would also improve welfare. Current research demonstrates that the precise placement of the cut can significantly affect outcomes, and this needs to be developed. The use of post-cut stunning should be explored further and possibly made mandatory. While not ideal it would reduce the period of pain and distress following the cut. Overall we could improve welfare standards by an increased supervision of the process of non-stun slaughter. Attention to the design and management of the stunning area would improve the extra handling and restrain that is required for non-stun slaughter. Ensuring welfare is a crucial and challenging role for the official veterinarian in any meat plant, especially one that is not stunning. If additional supervision to ensure compliance incurs an additional cost then surely that is the price of the derogation and would go a long way to ensuring that non-stun slaughter is being carried out for religious rather than commercial reasons.
12 Bill Reilly, “Slaughter without stunning”, Veterinary Record, 5 May 2012 9
Shechita UK was unhappy with Reilly’s article and considered that the FSA figures undermined his conclusions. They are preparing a formal response.