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Guest Article by Fiona Dodwell 

The law in the UK is explicit when it comes to animals and the meat industry: all animals must be stunned before slaughter, in order to reduce stress and pain for the animal. There is one exception, though, and that is religious slaughter (animals killed for halal and kosher purposes). This issue brings about conflict when it comes to animal welfare, for the law designed to protect animals in the UK are not being upheld because of an exemption that many feel should not exist.

As Anne Marie Waters said in an interview earlier this year:

“Religion has been given an exemption on un-stunned slaughter, which renders the laws on this completely meaningless. This is political trickery; introduce a law to protect animals from un- stunned slaughter and then give an exemption to the very people who want to practice un-stunned slaughter. It is disgraceful trickery aimed at duping the public that they care about animals, while simultaneously bowing down to the religious lobby without a moment’s concern for the animal.”

The UK has always been filled with a population of self-proclaimed animal lovers; people who feel passionate about their pets, about animal welfare and preserving species, so how and why has this exemption been created, let alone allowed? If there is a method adopted in slaughterhouses that seeks to minimise suffering, why is the halal and kosher industry going on unchallenged by those in governmental power?

The Food Standard Agency states that there is a “zero tolerance towards animal cruelty,” and that “specially trained veterinarians carry out checks to make sure that there have been no issues concerning the welfare of animals presented for slaughter.” However, according to The Independent, the UK now carries out more halal slaughter than the rest of Europe: it is now widely available in UK shops, schools and cafes. That un-stunned slaughter is becoming more widespread leaves us with the feeling that animals are being knowingly failed, and that this is being done legally through a loophole upon which government not only allow, but remain silent on.

What is halal and kosher?

Due to religious reasons, many Muslims and Jews have specific requirements for their meat – including blessing but not always stunning the animal before death – and this has resulted in halal and kosher meat being exempt for religious reasons under law. Each animal, before slaughter, is blessed and then killed with a knife to the throat.

The British Veterinary Association as well as the RSPCA have spoken against this meat procedure due to the strikingly painful death to each animal killed under that criteria.

This has brought about debate between meat eaters and non-meat eaters: in fact, even many who consume meat in their diet do not like the idea that, due to religious conviction, animals can be killed in this manner. Those who argue against the idea of halal and kosher meat being cruel say that it is no more so than other methods in which animals are killed to produce meat.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says it believes “all animals should be stunned before slaughter”, while the RSPCA says not doing so causes “unnecessary suffering.”
Furthermore, a report from the FAWC said chicken and turkeys were likely to be conscious for up to 20 seconds after a transverse incision is made across their neck.”

The RSPCA chipped in on their website, with the following:

“A large cut made across the neck of a conscious animal would “result in very significant pain and distress” before the animal loses consciousness (around 5 to 7 seconds for sheep, 22 to 40 seconds for adult cattle).“Slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and …the Government should repeal the current [religious] exemption.”

It has been argued that, with the UK trying to remain at the forefront of animal welfare, the idea of allowing the continuation of some of these practises under religious exemption is unacceptable. To even attempt to present the meat industry as one that ‘protects and cares’ for animals – whilst not only killing but also allowing procedures that can cause significant pain – presents obvious conflict.

Debates that arise from news reports relating to the treatment, welfare and legislation of animals brings with it an enormous emotional response. Passionate animal lovers who protest for animal rights clearly have grounds for concern, not only with halal and kosher practises but with general animal treatment within slaughterhouses.

There is one striking question that targets the heart of this matter for most people: what do we believe about animals and the treatment of them in 2018? Should religion be held above animal rights, if ultimately it leads to suffering?

The UKs demand for cheap meat is having an impact on animal welfare in many regards, with not just the problem of slaughter but also the conditions of many UK farms that these animals are reared and kept in. Many feel there needs to be a review of animal welfare in these matters, perhaps with legislation being revisited and adapted. With only a few political figures willing to even have the conversation to tackle this issue, it seems a resolution is far from happening.


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