Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
While slaughter of animal without pre-stunning is banned in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland, Muslims in the United Kingdom are continuing this cruel practice, while the authorities seem to be silently ignoring this issue. A number of other European states, including Holland and Germany, have explicitly prohibited the export of animals that were killed without stunning.
In February 2019, the National Secular Society (NSS) has warned the British authorities against turning the country into a “hotbed of non-stun halal slaughter” after it emerged that a large proportion of non-stun sheep meat is exported. According to statistics available with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) 2019 slaughterhouse survey, in 2018 alone, over 94 million cattle, sheep and poultry were slaughtered without being stunned first in England and Wales. Nearly a quarter (24%) of sheep meat that was not stunned before slaughter was exported from the UK. According to the British Veterinary Association, this equates to around 750,000 sheep being slaughtered without prior stunning per year for consumption outside the UK.
Although, according to Britain’s animal welfare legislation, all animals are to be stunned before slaughter in order to minimize suffering. But, the only exemption is for religious communities to meet Jewish and Muslim religious dietary preferences.
The shechita (Jewish) method of slaughter is exclusively non-stun in the UK while Islamic halal slaughter is comprised of both stun and non-stun methods of slaughter.
According to the latest FSA figures, 71 percent of sheep slaughtered in England and Wales are slaughtered by a halal method (both stun and non-stun). It may also be mentioned here that, Britain’s Office for National Statistics reveal the current Muslim population in the United Kingdom is slightly over 5 percent.
Stephen Evans, the NSS’s chief executive, said: “All animals must be stunned before slaughter, without exception. For as long as a derogation exists, the export of animals that have been slaughtered without stunning should be prohibited.
“The fact that the religious exemption compromises animal welfare in the UK is unacceptable in itself. It is further concerning that the exemption is being abused to boost the UK’s halal non-stun slaughter industry. This certainly goes against the spirit of the exemption, if not the letter of it. Becoming a hotbed of non-stun slaughter would not be a good look for post-Brexit Britain”.
One country – two law
The United Kingdom has been at the forefront of animal welfare legislation for more than 100 years. The first Protection of Animals Act was passed in 1911 and covered domestic or captive animals, including farm animals. Since then there have been many iterations of the Act in British Law but one of the clauses in the Act which has always been retained is the one which makes it an offense to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal that is being destroyed to provide food for mankind. Every year in the UK approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep, and lambs, and 950 million poultry are slaughtered for human consumption.
The 1911 Act has been amended several times, and specific Acts and Regulations on the subject introduced over the years, but that founding principle has been preserved and expanded and has resulted in strict legal methods mandated for the slaughter of animals for food, devised to ensure a swift and painless death and requiring the animal to be stunned and unconscious before being dispatched.
But today, millions of animals are suffering unspeakable agonies at the UK and some of the EU abattoirs because of exemptions to the law in the name of religious freedom, granted under EU law and incorporated into the UK legal system. Jews and Muslims are exempted from humane stunning laws before slaughter on religious grounds as both religions claim that religious slaughter is as humane as the alternatives, and the act of slitting the throat ‘stuns the animal’, so ‘there is no delay between stun and subsequent death’.
But campaigning activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls halal slaughter ‘prolonged torment’, saying the animals “fight and gasp for their last breath, struggling to stand while the blood drains from their necks”.
Over the past few years, there has been an enormous increase in the killing of animals without stunning, in the name of ‘respect’ for a religious minority. According to the BBC’s You and Yours program in November 2014, halal meat now accounts for around a quarter of the UK’s meat trade. It is served as standard meat in Wembley Stadium, Twickenham, on all British Airways flights, at Nando’s, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza and even Ascot racecourse, amongst many other venues. Most schools, hospitals and prisons have also adopted a ‘Halal only’ policy without informing or consulting parents or the unfortunate patients and prisoners who unwittingly eat it.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter at Salah_Shoaib