Parliament in Perspective 6th March 2015

E-petition with 115,000 signatures prompts three-hour debate of non-stun slaughter, Catherine Paice reports

A debate last week grappled with the religious and welfare issues around non-stun slaughter of animals that’s producing more meat than required by the Muslim and Jewish communities. It arose from an e-petition carrying 115,000 signatures that called for the end of non-stun slaughter, on animal welfare grounds. UK and EU law requires all farm animals to be stunned before slaughter, but there is an exemption for religious slaughter.

Food Standards Agency results published last month indicated that in 2013, 31 million poultry, 2.5m sheep and goats and 44,000 cattle were not stunned. Other stats claim many more. Studies have shown up to 20% of halal slaughter is not pre-stunned; the Halal Food Authority estimates halal meat makes up about 25% of the meat market.

The petition also drew attention to the fact that hindquarters of animals killed by the (non-stun) shechita method of slaughter can enter the wider market, unlabelled. An estimated 70% of kosher meat is not consumed by the Jewish community – many people buy it without knowing. There are also allegations of a significant over-provision of non-stun slaughterhouses. The petition called for clearer labelling and post-cut stunning to improve welfare.

The debate was introduced by Philip Hollobone (Con, Kettering), contending that “an overwhelming number of people (77%) want non-stun in this country to be ended”. While labelling was the key issue, the extent of mis-stunning shocked MPs, and there was strong support for CCTV in slaughterhouses, as well as post-cut stunning. Anne McIntosh (Con, Thirsk and Malton) urged better inspection and enforcement of standards.

The opening shot came from Bob Stewart (Con, Beckenham), who said that if his throat was going to be cut he would certainly prefer to be stunned.

Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) said it would help if people had a better idea of what they were buying and could make informed decisions.

Sir Jim Paice (Con, SE Cambs) promoted the use of a ‘four-bar’ label, listing halal or kosher alongside stunned or non-stunned. As he pointed out, all kosher meat has to be killed by the shechita method, but not all halal meat is non-stunned. The way forward is to reduce suffering while recognising the need for proper respect for religious rites by introducing compulsory post-cut stunning, he suggested.

Bill Wiggin (Con, North Herefordshire) suggested it was impossible for the Jewish community, who must avoid consuming animal blood, to take steps for change without more evidence on the amount of blood left in carcases that have been stunned or not stunned.

Shabana Mahmood (Lab, Birmingham, Ladywood) conceded the four-label approach “stigmatises communities”, but detailed labelling would support the need for better information.

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