Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The facts about slaughter in accordance with religious rites

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the subject of Halal has again hit the headlines this week.

Specifically, the subject matter has related to halal chicken and issues of transparency, in terms of labelling, for consumers. The topic is an emotive one and one that inevitably polarises public opinion.   

What is important, however, is that all parties contributing to the debate are fully informed of the facts. There is currently a lack of clarity and understanding about the Halal sector, for example, particularly in the ability to identify stun/non-stun slaughter. Halal does not mean non-stun per se – a study conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2011, for example, found that 90 per cent of sheep slaughter is pre-stunned, a point often misunderstood. The issue has gained some traction in the first quarter of this year. From a debate in the House of Lords in January, to considerable coverage in the national press, interest in the subject remains high on the agenda.

Indeed, this week saw the start of a mini inquiry into slaughter in accordance with religious rites by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Beef and Lamb. A meeting was also held on the same subject by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.

As we’ve said, it can tend to polarise opinion and, irrespective of what some headlines scream at the public, it’s imperative to take a step back and look at the facts to ensure the debate remains well-informed.

The humane slaughter of cattle and sheep is governed by EU law and enforced in every abattoir in England by DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency under The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (WASK), soon to repealed for the incoming Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) regulation.

EU legislation permits member states to allow a derogation in the case of slaughter of animals without prior stunning for religious rites and this includes both non-stun Halal and Jewish Shechita slaughter. If a derogation is made for slaughter for religious rites, it falls outside the normal requirements for stunning.

Halal represents a significant growing market for the English sheep sector. Average sheep meat consumption in the UK is 4.4kg per person versus an estimated 30kg per person for Muslim consumers. This highlights the important role Muslim consumers play in sheep meat consumption.

The EU is currently conducting a consultation with consumers across all member states to explore options for labelling, giving information about slaughter methods. Ultimately, it is about animal welfare, not religion, and will no doubt prompt a great deal of further debate for some time to come. However, that debate must be based on facts if any progress is to be made for all consumers.