Humanists UK has called for the introduction of a clear and simple labelling system to identify non-stunned meat products, in response to a consultation by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs. This measure would ensure that consumers are informed and empowered to make choices about their food in accordance with their beliefs and preferences, and prevent non-stunned meat from illegally entering the general market.
Humanists believe that animals are sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain and pleasure. Thus, there is a moral duty to treat them with compassion and, as far as possible, to eliminate unnecessary pain and suffering which they experience as a result of human behaviour. Humanists UK endorses five freedoms for animals under human care: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour, and freedom from fear and distress. While humanists fully respect the right of religious communities to practise their beliefs, such practices can be legitimately limited if they damage the health and morals of our society or infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. Therefore, non-stunned slaughter is a dereliction of the moral duty towards animals and is of sufficient importance to justify a limitation of freedom of religious practice.
There is currently no requirement for any meat products to be labelled indicating the method of slaughter. However, such labelling is necessary as there is strong evidence that a substantial amount of non-stunned halal meat is unlawfully entering the general market. The latest Food Standards Agency figures, published in February 2019, shows that 94 million animals were slaughtered without pre-stunning in 2018. This included 90.8 million chickens (9.7 percent of total slaughtered), 3.1 million sheep (25 percent), and 22,000 cattle (1.1 percent). These figures are far in excess of the market share required to fulfil the demand for halal and shechita meat.
The present system also lacks accurate traceability, which makes it extremely likely that non-stunned meat is entering the general food market, particularly in pies and processed ready meals. This widespread practice is possibly unlawful, as the religious exemptions are limited to meat intended to be consumed by Muslims and Jews only. The Government has acknowledged that there is genuine public concern about meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning being sold to consumers who have no religious requirement for their meat to be prepared in this way.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,
‘Labelling is necessary to tackle this problem at a consumer level, and to give purchasers the power to choose products in line with their belief system, including humanists who hold a belief in the humane treatment of animals and that it is unacceptable to cause animals unnecessary pain or suffering. Setting clear standards for labels detailing methods of slaughter would increase consumer understanding of animal welfare issues and will ensure a greater consistency and accountability in slaughterhouses.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
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