Local initiative in the absence of national provisions
Lancashire County Council is in the process of reviewing its current policy on the supply of halal meat to schools, and its on-line consultation is due to close on 7 March. The Council voted to stop supplying un-stunned non-poultry meat to schools and other establishments last October, but in January decided to reconsider its policy after the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) threatened to seek judicial review of its decision and encourage a boycott of school meals. The consultation states “The council currently provides both stunned and un-stunned halal meat in a small number of schools, providing this service for school meals where there is the demand for it. The county council is considering the proposal to provide only stunned halal meat”.
The supply of halal meat by Lancashire CC is not a new concern and in a recent article, the Daily Telegraph noted that “[i]n 2012, the Council briefly stopped supplying halal meat to local schools over a production issue, but after children boycotted their school dinners, the unstunned meat was reinstated”. Details of the current contracts are available here. On 26 October 2017 after a lengthy debate, the Conservative-controlled council became the first in the country to agree to cease supplying non-poultry meat to schools and other establishments, unless the animals had been stunned before slaughter. The Council agreed the resolution “[the Council] recognizes and respects the Muslim community’s requirements for their food to comply with their religious beliefs”, but was “concerned that slaughtering animals without stunning them beforehand causes them unnecessary stress and suffering”.
The decision was due to take effect in December, but following the stated intention of the Lancashire Council of Mosques to seek judicial review, the ban was “put on hold until legal matters are resolved”. The LCM indicated that the ground for the JR was that the authority did not consult adequately over the decision. The one-month “wider consultation… to inform future policy” was opened on 1 February 2018.
Accompanying the on-line consultation is the report “Halal meat policy review – full council report” (“the Report”), an undated document headed “Appendix A: Review of the County Council’s policy relating to the supply of Halal meat to schools“. The 13-page report contains much of the information relevant to consultation, although it appears to have been produced in advance of the Council’s resolution: it states [page 13]:
“As this is a policy review, no formal consultation has taken place at this time. However, if Full Council resolves to amend the current policy, a further Equality Impact Assessment will need to be completed. This would include an extensive consultation exercise”.
The general issues of halal meat supply to schools were identified in an earlier APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) document The Halal Dilemma, (September 2011) on which the Lancashire document draws. However, absent from the consultation material are other Annexes referred to in the Report, notably the Equality Assessment, Annex 4; however, this is available on the LCC web page on the Full Council Meeting on 26 October.
The on-line consultation seeks information relating to: the degree of agreement or disagreement with the proposal to provide only stunned halal meat to schools; the impact of this proposal on the respondee; views on alternative solutions to halal meat supply; and “anything else”, as well as typical cultural and diversity information. [Since the consultation permits up to 9,999 words on each of the responses, one suspects that those responsible for its formulation will not be the one collating all the responses].
Tendering and Procurement
The issue in Lancashire concerns the supply of halal meat to the schools within the Council area, rather than its consumption. As such, provisions such as the School Food Regulations 2014 and the Public Contract Regulations 2015 apply, in addition to the Equality Act 2010. In addition, the Council is party to contractual arrangements to supply twenty-seven schools where the Governing Body has chosen halal school meals. The financial implications of the decision therefore feature strongly in the Council document.
The 2011 APSE document comments:
“A local authority (LA) cannot specify a restrictive Halal standard (either by reference to a non-mainstream accreditation or by prescribing in detail the slaughter/ production methodology). To do so would lead to a high risk of challenge for distorting/restricting competition and discriminating against other Halal accreditations…
“The LA can however specify that the product is identifiable as Halal (labelled) but cannot specify which particular label (would have to state ‘or equivalent’)”.
Last year, the introduction of a new Halal Quality Standard Mark for all sheepmeat was proposed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the statutory levy board representing farmers and growers. However, the AHDB consultation was industry-focused, directed at maximizing the opportunities within the halal market, (i.e. consistent with the statutory functions of the AHDB). However, the proposed labelling was potentially confusing and used near-identical labels for “stun” and “non-stun”, and neither actually indicates whether pre-stunning has taken place.
Much more questionably, the APSE document also suggests [emphasis added]:
“If an LA was opposed to non-stunned slaughter, then it is permissible to mandate stunned slaughter in a tender because this is the desired method under the EU directive.
So to mandate stunning would not distort competition as most Halal slaughters in the UK employ stunning; just as it is permissible to specify ‘free range’ when it comes to eggs, the requirement of stunning relates to the ‘production method'”.
If by “the EU directive” the document means Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, the statement is inconsistent with the national contexts and “slaughter prescribed by religious rites” addressed in Preamble #15, #18 and Article 4 (4). Furthermore, Preamble #18 states:
“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”.
The consultation seeks information on the approval and potential impact of a change in the Council’s policy on the supply of halal meat. Whilst Annex A states “the Qur’an does not expressly forbid stunning” and “[there] s no single authoritative body in the UK representing a single agreed definition/standard for Halal”, it is debatable whether a general consultation such as that currently in progress is the best approach to ascertain the views of the local Muslim community. Furthermore, Annex A itself includes information in support of the status quo:
- ‘un-stunned’ Halal school meals are currently supplied for up to 12,000 children.
- there is currently no demand for stunned Halal meat, nor would there be an expected increase in demand for stunned Halal meat if the Lancashire Council of Mosques adopted the same position of boycotting all school meals and only advocating un-stunned Halal meat.
- the Jewish community will only accept un-stunned meat.
- EU and UK law provide for religious slaughter.
We will follow the outcome of this consultation with interest, but as recent experience has shown, this is an area in which successive national administrations have been reluctant to act, even in relation to the labelling issue.
For the record, it should be pointed out that the EU information on the Regulation now contains a Brexit-specific note which states inter alia that “Certificates of competence delivered in the United Kingdom pursuant to Article 21 of the Regulation will no longer be valid in the European Union from the moment the United Kingdom becomes a third country”.
With acknowledgements to the NSS for highlighting the consultation