The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the statutory levy board representing farmers and growers, is consulting on the introduction of a new Halal Quality Standard Mark for all sheepmeat. As part of this scheme the AHDB is proposing a new labelling system to indicate the method of slaughter used.
Humanists UK opposes the religious slaughter of animals without pre-stunning on the basis of evidence which shows that an animal’s suffering is reduced if it has been stunned previously. At present, legal loopholes exist which exempt religious slaughterhouses from animal welfare laws. Humanists UK favours the closing of these loopholes, and as an interim measure, supports introducing labels to better inform consumers about how their meat was produced. However, the current proposed design of the labels is obscure as it makes no specific reference to whether the animal was stunned before slaughter to reduce its suffering or not.
AHDB’s consultation addresses several issues surrounding halal slaughter. However, Humanists UK is specifically interested in the marketing aspect of this scheme. As part of this proposal, halal sheepmeat will carry one of two marks to indicate whether pre-stunning or ‘traditional’ (where the animal is fully conscious at the point of slaughter) methods are used. However, these labels are nearly identical and neither actually indicates whether pre-stunning has taken place. The former only contains the word ‘Halal Assured’ with a tick symbol and the latter has the words ‘Halal Assured’ with the word ‘halal’ repeated in Arabic script. The consultation document suggests ‘the wording “stun / with pre-stunning” will not be used in the primary branding of either mark’ making it difficult to determine what the label is intended to indicate. Humanists UK believes that if religious exemptions to slaughter laws are to continue to exist, at the least consumers should be able to make an informed choice about about whether to purchase it or not. The best way to achieve this is to have a clear, easily and widely understood labelling system.
Anyone with an interest in animal welfare can submit a response (particularly to the marketing question) to the ADBH calling for greater clarity. We have prepared a model answer to help with drafting your response. The consultation closes on Wednesday 30 August.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Many organisations, including the European Union, the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, the Humane Slaughter Association, and even the Government’s own Farm Animal Welfare Committee all agree that ritual slaughter without pre-stunning is inhumane and the exemptions in law that allow for it should be ended. At the very least consumers should be aware, at the point of purchase, whether a product has been produced in this way. By failing to reference pre-stunning on their labels the AHDB’s proposal fails to do this and thereby fails in its intended purpose. While we welcome labeling, we urge the AHDB to think again and ensure clarity.’
Background on halal slaughter and the law
The Government’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee recommends that pre-stunning of animals prior to slaughter is the best way to minimise suffering. Pre-stunning is mandated by law for all animal slaughter, but there are exemptions for religious groups to provide kosher (or shechita) and halal meat. This exemption mandates that slaughter without pre-stunning is only to be carried out by Jews and Muslims for consumption by these respective groups. Such meat products should not be sold on the general meat market. However, there is substantial evidence that non-stunned halal and shechita meat is being sold widely and unknowingly to non-Muslims and non-Jews, in contravention of the law. The RSPCA estimates that less than half of meat from animals slaughtered by Jewish methods (all of which is not stunned before slaughter) is sold in kosher shops and the Halal Food Authority believes that halal meat (of which 20 percent is not stunned before slaughter) now represents 25 percent of the entire meat market in the UK.
Read more about the AHDB’s consultation here: http://www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/halal
Read more on our campaigns on animal welfare: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/animal-welfare/
Read our full response to the consultation here: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-08-21-RTR-Final-Halal-Sheepmeat-consultation.pdf
We support the reduction of animal suffering resulting from human behaviour and see compassionate attitudes to animal suffering as a hallmark of a humane society. As we wish to reduce suffering, humanists are concerned about the treatment of food animals, both during their lives and when they are slaughtered. Pre-stunning is mandated by law but there are exemptions for religious groups to provide kosher (or shechita) and halal meat. We believe these exemptions should end, as has happened in some other countries. We note that there is in fact widespread certification of meat as halal with pre-stunning. If the exemptions enabling religious slaughter are not to be brought to an end, then we think at the very least rules should be introduced requiring all such meat to be labelled as such.
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