On 15 December, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts moved the motion:
“That this House regrets that, since the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015 [“the WATOK regulations”] do not in all cases specify parameters for electrical water-bath stunning, poultry in England will be afforded a less rigorous level of welfare at slaughter than available in Wales and Northern Ireland (SI 2015/1782)”, [15 Dec 2015 Vol 767(85) Column 2054].
Introducing the motion, Lord Hodgson was at pains to stress that his motion was concerned with animal welfare, not the slaughter of animals according to religious rites, [“religious slaughter”],
“First, nothing—and I repeat nothing—in my regret Motion is intended to restrict or impede the operation of the slaughter of animals according to religious rites. I am not going to go so far as to say that I personally support these practices but, that having been said, I remain 100% committed to freedom of religious belief. However, secondly and conversely, where that freedom on religious grounds has not been exercised, I argue that animal slaughter should then take place to standards laid down and agreed by national and supranational bodies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and the British Veterinary Association.
Inevitably, however, aspects of religious slaughter were raised on a number of occasions within the debate on account of the formulation of the Regulations in England. The underlying issue, apart from “Defra acting in an extraordinarily dilatory and indeed inexplicable way” [Col 2055], was the differential manner in which the 2009 EU Regulations, Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009, within the UK in relation to the stunning of poultry., Schedule 3, Part 1, to the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Wales) Regulations 2014 says:
“Nothing in this Schedule applies to the killing of animals in accordance with religious rites which are stunned before killing, but in such cases an animal must be restrained and stunned in accordance with the EU Regulation and Schedule 1”.
Similar provisions apply in Northern Ireland. The words “in accordance with the EU Regulation and Schedule 1” include detailed requirements [at para.28] on how the waterbath used for stunning must operate. However, the English Regulations were only laid in May 2014 and on 19 May, a day before they were due to come into force, they were unexpectedly withdrawn. The current version came into force on 5 November, but with the important words “in accordance with the EU Regulation and Schedule 1” omitted and replaced by “in accordance with this Schedule”. However, the Defra web page Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing includes a link to the EU Regulation.
With regard to the withdrawal of the Regulations, paragraph 4 of the Explanatory Memorandum, paragraph states:
“… After making the 2014 WATOK Regulations, the Government decided that the potential impact on some limited aspects of religious slaughter needed further consideration and that it was preferable to revoke the 2014 WATOK Regulations in order to give full consideration to the relevant issues”.
The WATOK Regulations now differ from the 2014 WATOK Regulations in that the previous regulations had the effect of requiring animals which are stunned before killing in accordance with religious rites to be stunned in accordance with the parameters in Annex I of the EU Regulation. This change to the WATOK Regulations does not remove the requirement for all stunning to be effective as required by Article 5(1) of the EU Regulation.”
Acknowledging that there are a number of measures in this regulation which are improvements to the previous regulations, Lord Trees (CB), commented [Col 2058]:
“ … as noble Lords have said, there are other features of the regulations pertaining to poultry that do not prioritise animal welfare. Of specific concern is the failure to specify particular parameters for the electrical stunning of poultry in water baths. Previous rules did not specify the electrical current and frequency to be used, and it has been recognised that under certain conditions—low current, for example—animals may not be properly rendered unconscious before the neck-cut to sever the blood vessels kills them.
The WATOK regulations as originally drafted would enable effective but reversible stunning, which is acceptable for halal so far as I can see, so I am perplexed as to why the current WATOK regulations for England exclude these greater safeguards to ensure that poultry are effectively electrically stunned.
I stress at this point that the adopted regulations still allow religious communities the option not to stun. That is an option with which I personally do not agree, but it respects religious freedoms. As an aside, I find it of considerable concern that the number of sheep and goats killed without stunning in the UK has risen from an estimated 1.5 million in 2011 to an estimated 2 million-plus in 2013, based on the FSA’s survey of abattoirs in those two years. That is a regrettable trend that I argue is in the wrong direction for animal welfare.”
Responding to the motion, Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con) explained [Col 2064]
“ … While this Government would prefer to see all animals stunned before they are slaughtered, we also respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. Indeed, we had a manifesto commitment to protect religious slaughter.
In the context of the new EU regulation, the halal poultry industry raised concerns that the new stunning requirements for water baths were incompatible with halal slaughter because it believed that they did not result in a recoverable stun where an animal is capable of regaining consciousness once stunned. There was, therefore, a risk that more of the halal industry would be moved over to non-stun slaughter if it had to follow the parameters set out in Annexe 1 of the new EU regulation …”
In withdrawing his motion, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts commented [Col 2066]
“His lengthy remarks on this technical subject deserve a careful read in Hansard, but I have to say to him that I think there was a drawing on a mixture of the religious and non-religious—this way and that way—which I did not find entirely clear. However, I owe him a careful read. We did not get to the bottom of the issue about why there is this critical omission and change in the text of the English regulations compared to those in Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am irrevocably or inevitably drawn to the conclusion that these regulations, as regards the position of poultry, are a fudge. Defra knows that they are a fudge and I suspect that my noble friend knows they are a fudge. This is not a happy evening for animal welfare as regards poultry. More importantly, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, pointed out, it is not a happy evening for candour in public policy. Whatever our religious beliefs, the Government owe the country to be open and honest about matters such as these. Otherwise, suspicion, misconstruction and mistrust flourish, which was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about the need to have transparency in the way in which decisions are reached in these matters.
I end by repeating that, in the light of all that has been said this evening, I hope my noble friend will go away and talk to his officials about further consideration of putting in the particular words in the regulations, which would answer the questions that we have all raised this evening”.
In the light of Lord Gardiner’s comments, it seems unlikely that the Regulations will be changed in the near future, although were further research to identify a range of stunning parameters that would satisfy the halal requirements, there would then be little excuse for amending the Regulations accordingly. Apart from the issue of their introduction through the negative procedure for SIs, [Col 2061], one concerning factor in the present Regulations was that they were changed, apparently at short notice, after lobbying by “the halal poultry industry” rather than a representative religious organization.
You see, this is what bothers me. It should be possible to determine by scientific study what is the most humane way to despatch animals in the food industry – based upon stress and pain inflicted. If this is true, why in a civilised country must we then go on to allow a less than optimal method to be used in order to comply with some bronze or iron age ritual which still followed by some in our nation? This is not religious freedom it is religious licence – licence to inflict stress or pain on animals. If the priests who conduct or insist upon this traditional method of killing claim that it is no more stressful of painful than the method recommended by veterinary science then they should be required to prove this by similar methods.
It took a very long time and much effort to reach the situation in this country where animal welfare was taken seriously and incorporated into law. Is all this to be abandoned to mollify a religious minority?
A more serious problem was revealed this year by secret filming of the behaviour of workers in a Halal slaughter house, showing (in this case) that even the “correct” procedures of this method of slaughter were not being followed. At least that can be eliminated by the (legally required) presence of a ministry veterinary officer – who was not present on this occasion.
On religious freedom and religious licence
Scientology is a body of beliefs and practices created in 1954 by American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard (1911–86). After developing the pseudoscience Dianetics after WW II as an alternative to psychiatry, Hubbard lost the rights to its seminal publication Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health in 1953. He then founded the Church of Scientology which in the USA gave certain exemptions from taxation. [Wikipedia] An attempt to have the CofS registered as a charity in the UK failed in 1999.
Then in December 2013 a Supreme Court (UK) case was brought by Louisa Hodkin after she was told that a Church of Scientology chapel in central London could not be used to conduct weddings. Five Supreme Court judges ruled that the church was a place of meeting for religious worship and that she should be able to get married there. They ruled that religion did not have to involve worshipping a god.
So it seems to be possible to invent a religion and to have it accepted as such under English law. Although this may take a little time.
As a thought-experiment I have considered reviving the cult of the Pythagoreans with some modern embellishments.
Jordan Ellenberg in his excellent book “How Not To Be Wrong” [Penguin Books 2014] describes The Pythagoreans thus:- “… , you have to remember, [they] were extremely weird. Their philosophy was a chunky stew of things we’d now call mathematics, things we’d call religion and even mental illness. They believed that odd numbers were good and even numbers evil; that a planet identical to our own, the Antichton, lay on the other side of the sun; and that it was wrong to eat beans, by some accounts because they were the repository of people’s souls. Pythagoras himself was said to have the ability to talk to cattle (he told them not to eat beans) and to have been one of the few ancient Greeks to wear pants”. [I assume “pants” is American usage for trousers].
I would like to add to their religious numerology the belief that right is good and left is evil. This is not too far-fetched since in that fount of imperfect knowledge Wikipedia we find:-
Historically, the left side, and subsequently left-handedness, was considered negative in many cultures. The Latin word sinistra originally meant “left” but took on meanings of “evil” or “unlucky” by the Classical Latin era, and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, and in the English word “sinister”. My religion will decree that on Woden’s day (I have searched far and wide for my religious construction) observant Pythagoreans will insist on driving on the right side of the road. They consider that doing this is a test of their religious freedom.
Is this crazy? My son, when a Sixth Former, earned a little money in the summer vacation by supervising children at a residential EFL course in Lampeter university college. Also in residence were a party of Hasidic Jewish families on a sectarian summer vacation. They occupied a self-catering unit which was carefully prepared for their use. They brought their own kosher food. One Saturday my son was called to the “Hasidic” accommodation to find that a kitchen was on fire. There was fire fighting equipment in the kitchen but it could, of course, not be used by the residents. He tackled the fire and managed to put it out. The university college had a difficult meeting with their insurers after this incident. If there had been tragic fatalities because of this incident, would it have been possible to charge adults who refused to fight the fire with involuntary manslaughter through gross negligence given that they had, at least, raised the alarm? Religious dogma has consequences.
My hypothetical Latter Day Pythagoreans would surely not be allowed to drive on the right in the UK on Wednesdays. Our society only works if we all accept the pragmatic man-made laws. I would suggest that if Moslems must eat halal slaughtered meat for religious reasons then they should be free to do so. That is religious freedom. But our man-made laws concerning humane slaughter should also be observed so all halal meat should be imported and clearly marked as such. This would also guarantee my freedom of belief by allowing me to avoid halal meat. I don’t think this requirement is impractical. For the first forty years of my life all the mutton and lamb which I consumed was imported, frozen from the Antipodes. To waive the humane slaughter laws in the UK is to grant religious licence.
I like the Encarta definition 5: licence = excessive freedom in behaviour or speech that gives a bad name to liberty.
It’s an immensely difficult problem and one on which, I guess, we won’t agree.
Article 9(1) ECHR protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion – “subject only”, under Article 9(2), “to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
Halal and kosher slaughter are part of the freedom of religion protected by Article 9(1): and it’s difficult to see how banning them outright could fall within the ambit of Article 9(2) – though in Cha’are Shalom Ve Tsedek v France  ECHR 351 a majority of the Grand Chamber held that there was no obligation on France to permit “glatt kosher” slaughter so long as ultra-Orthodox Jews could obtain supplies from elsewhere.
If there’s a “freedom of others” involved in all this, it’s presumably the freedom on conscientious grounds not to eat meat from animals that have not been pre-stunned before slaughter. My own view is that the Article 9-compliant approach to ensuring that freedom is a rigorous labelling regime so that people can see exactly what they’re buying.
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