On Tuesday, the House of Commons held a short debate in Westminster Hall on the religious slaughter of farm animals. Opening the debate, George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con), suggested a number of possible improvements to the present regime:
- labelling meat as un-stunned, “because that is a clearly definable legal definition”;
- increasing the “standstill time” on bovine animals from the current limit of 30 seconds to at least one-and-a-half or two minutes to ensure that there is no movement of a bovine animal while it is still conscious;
- requiring a post-cut stun on all bovine animals, “recognising that there is an issue with the physiology of bovines, which leads to a long and protracted death”.
As an alternative, he suggested, “we could simply ban the non-stunned slaughter of bovine animals, recognising that there are issues with that”. Another possibility was formal quotas for abattoirs: in Germany, for example, there was a much more sophisticated quota system, under which the authorities made an assessment of the requirements of orthodox religious communities and abattoirs had to apply for a licence and demonstrate that they had “an actual market for the food they are producing”.
In reply, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, David Rutley, reiterated the Government’s preference that all animals should be stunned before slaughter. However:
“[W]e respect the right of Jews and Muslims to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs. We therefore allow the religious slaughter of animals by Muslims and Jews for intended consumption by them. The Government believe that that is an important religious freedom, and there is a long history of upholding it in legislation, dating back to the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933, which contained an exception from stunning for religious slaughter for Jews and Muslims.”
He and the Secretary of State had held a roundtable with a number of interested parties, including religious groups, animal welfare organisations and industry representatives in May. It had been
“a positive and open discussion, with helpful contributions from all who attended. Key issues discussed during that roundtable were the welfare impacts of different slaughter methods, essential ways of improving consumer information, the scope of the labelling scheme and halal assurance.”
In conclusion, he assured the Muslim and Jewish communities that the Government respected their religious freedoms and wanted to balance them with what more could be done to improve the welfare of animals.