On 7 July The Times (£) carried a story about religious slaughter and pre-stunning. It reports that Nizar Boga has “reignited the debate about ritual slaughter by urging the Government to ban halal killing unless animals have been stunned first”. Mr Boga, a prison imam and former adviser to the Prince’s Trust, is the chief executive of the Universal Halal Agency, which audits consumable products to ensure that they comply with sharia. He is also an official adviser to the EU-funded DIALREL project, which aims to gather information relating to slaughter techniques as well as product range, consumer expectations, market share and socioeconomic issues by encouraging a constructive dialogue between interested parties.
Mr Boga argues that pre-stunning is consistent with Islamic teaching and calls on politicians to take the lead in encouraging all Muslims to eat meat from animals that have been stunned before their throats are cut. However, his views are not shared by Dr Abdul Majid Katme of the Islamic Medical Association, whose response to the Government consultation stated that it was “important to keep religious slaughter un-stunned”.
Slaughter without pre-stunning is becoming increasingly controversial. Mr Boga’s submission to the Defra animal welfare consultation (which was apparently made public as the result of an FoI request) has been welcomed by the British Veterinary Association, which earlier in the year launched an e-petition on the issue, End non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare, with the support of the RSPCA. It has already received a Government response; and by 7 July it had attracted 70,863 signatures – which means that there is a serious possibility that it will reach the necessary 100,000 in order to be considered for debate by the Commons Backbench Business Committee.
The National Secular Society has long campaigned for an end to the exemption that allows religious groups to slaughter animals without pre-stunning, while the British Humanist Association supports the British Veterinary Association’s initiative.
Whether or not Mr Boga’s contention about the legitimacy of stunning prior to halal slaughter is acceptable to Muslims generally or in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence we cannot say because neither of us is a specialist in Islamic law. It is undeniably the case, however, that pre-stunning is completely unacceptable to Orthodox Jews. The Shechita UK website says this:
“The shechita process actually does stun by rendering the animal immediately unconscious, but other methods of stunning, for example by captive-bolt shot into the brain, or by electric shock, or by gas, cause injuries to an animal and delay the slaughter unnecessarily. In order for an animal to be kosher it must be healthy and uninjured. Since shechita is the only permitted way for Jews to obtain meat for food, the other methods are not kosher and render the animal treifah (literally ‘torn’) – it may not be eaten”.
So even if Muslims were prepared to accept slaughter after pre-stunning as halal, the problem (if, indeed, it is a problem) of shechita slaughter would remain.
In March David Cameron told the Knesset that “On my watch shechita is safe in the UK” and, in so saying, he echoed the position of previous Governments of all political persuasions. The Labour Government rejected the recommendation of the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s report in 2003, Report on the Welfare of Farmed Animals at Slaughter or Killing that “slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and that the Government should repeal the current exemption”.
The reported comments of Mr Boga may well reignite the controversy; but one cannot see any UK Government changing its position on this in the foreseeable future.