The slaughter of animals for food is an emotive subject, made more so when issues of religious slaughter are involved. The publication by Defra of the consultation ‘Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing’ on 13 September was followed by a number of groups including the National Secular Society expressing particular concern regarding ‘religious slaughter’, here. The RSPCA is ‘opposed to the slaughter of any food animal without first rendering it insensible to pain and distress until death supervenes’, here, but to date has not formulates its position. The British Veterinary Association has similar concerns, which it outlined in a letter to the Sunday Times on 8 October, here, and is currently seeking its member’s opinions on the consultation before submitting its response.
In the briefing note issued by the National Secular Society, here, the labelling of religiously slaughtered meat is identified as a key issue, which, it notes, is being considered by the collation government ‘in a welfare context’. No doubt other organizations will support this move by the NSS, but is the present consultation the right vehicle through which to raise these concerns?
The labelling of religiously slaughtered meat became an issue in 2010 as a result of two factors: newspaper reports that halal meat was being served in the House of Commons dining rooms, here; and the EU proposal on the labelling of food in respect of nutritional information, here. [This and the associated lobbying is discussed in my column in Environmental Law and Management, (2010) 22 ELM 328].
With regard to UK Parliament, in response to a request from Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, regarding ‘some food labelling regulations to mark halal and kosher products as such’, here, James Paice, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stated:
‘As my hon. Friend is aware and as the House fully understands, this is a highly emotive issue, and I understand the demand for labelling. As he rightly says, the Government would like all animals to be properly stunned before they are bled to slaughter. There is a discussion at European level about food information regulations, but we do not believe that that is the right vehicle. Next year, we will consult on implementation of the European animal welfare regulations, and the labelling issue will certainly be examined as part of that. I recognise the strength of feeling to which my hon. Friend refers’, [emphasis added].
Or, certainly not, as it now appears from the consultation document which does not contain any questions relating to labelling, although the House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/SC/1314, ‘Religious Slaughter’, as last updated on 11 June 2012, does acknowledge that
‘[t]he Coalition Government has no intention of making Halal or Shechita slaughter illegal, but it is considering welfare labelling of meat’, [emphasis added].
But when? The earlier European proposal concerned nutritional information and was probably not the correct vehicle, but neither is the present Defra consultation. Since the latter does not address the labelling issue, it is unlikely that any responses relating to this will be a major consideration in the subsequent government reponse, although strongly expressed views are likely to be noted. For the groups concerned, this is clearly an issue of where best to deploy their lobbying resources, but what is certain is that if labelling becomes a ‘stand-alone’ consultation, it will be subject to lobbying from a number of opposing organizations. What is uncertain, however, is the degree of general concern in this issue. When Defra consulted in 2009 on the underpinning EU Regulation, here, this generated only 36 responses, three of which supported compulsory labelling of meat from animals that have not been stunned.
The current consultation closes on 24 October.