A recent investigation into the treatment of animals at a number of different abattoirs that produce halal meat for religious communities such as Muslims and Jews has revitalised concerns about animal welfare and laws surrounding their slaughter. It has also gained significant attention due to UKIP using it as a political advertisement, stating that, if they were to come into power, they would prohibit all methods of slaughter, which do not involve pre-stunning of the animals. Despite there being EU legislation that permits this method of slaughter for religious purposes through the EU Regulation 1099/2009 EC, a turn in government may lead to a major disadvantage for many. It also raises greater questions about the European Union’s ties with the UK as well as rights for religious minorities if UKIP were to come into power and subsequently leave the EU.
Halal and Kosher meat is acquired by slitting an animal’s throat with a sharp knife while it is still conscious. Jewish law strictly forbids the stunning of animals during slaughter, while in Islamic law it cannot be used to actually kill the animal. Organisations such as the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association are just two of a number of organisations that want to see an end to such methods of slaughter, which for some people is considered cruel and inhumane. For almost 3 million Muslims in the UK and the 300,000 Jews, halal meat and kosher meat are an essential dietary requirement and restricting its production in the UK would be a detriment to many.
In early February, Animal Aid, a British animal rights organisation, released images from Bowood Lamb abattoir in Thirsk, North Yorkshire showing workers shame their practice by not following the laws regarding the slaughter of animals for halal meat. The undercover images showed workers hacking and sawing at the throats of the animals as well as throwing them around during the process. British and EU law requires all animals to be stunned prior to being killed, apart from when the meat is intended for Muslim or Jewish consumers. The legislation also governs how the animals are to be handled during the slaughter procedure, which the images were completely inconsistent to. The regulatory board, the Food Standards Agency stipulated that practically any slaughterhouse “can practise non-stun slaughter without demonstrating that the meat is destined for religious purposes”. This emphasises a poor application of the law, rather than a fault with the law itself.
The ritual slaughter of animals for religious dietary requirements has raised issues concerning whether this process opposes the views of many UK individuals, who believe it is contrary to the humane treatment of animals during their slaughter. The effects of such laws being tightened would be an extreme restriction to the diets of many people. More reasonable methods by which to ensure the tight regulation of these laws would surely be more practical for those affected by it. MPs and pressure groups have found a common ground by which to make sure these laws are complied with such as introducing CCTV in abattoirs and labelling on meats, which make it clearer for consumers as to the methods of slaughter used to acquire the meat. However, the drastic annulation of these laws suggested by UKIP is representative of an uncompromised and single-minded proposal that could potentially divide people and cultures.
Nevertheless, UKIP seem to be using these newly released images to drive a wedge between communities and they stated that religion which requires such a method of slaughter, should not be allowed to “override the UK’s compassionate traditions of animal welfare”.
Europe has a divided stance on this issue with Denmark’s ministry of agriculture recently stating that “Animal welfare takes precedence over religion”, which was met with harsh criticism from the countries’ religious population. Such as with UKIP, it calls to question the motive of the Danish government. If it is truly animal welfare that is the object of this reform then is it not necessary to place emphasis on the welfare of the animal during their lifetime rather than on the short moments before their death? If that is the real objective, surely reform should come in those places before prohibiting such an essential dietary requirement for many people.
We can see the consequences of such a ban when looking at Poland, which prohibited halal and kosher slaughter for a period of almost two years between January 2013 and December 2014. Polish Muslims and Jews were required to either import meat or abstain from it completely. In fact, it even led to the Israeli government in July 2013 trying to negotiate with the Polish government specifically on this topic. Albeit unsuccessful, it exemplified the international response from communities that oppose such a method of exclusion. The Polish Constitutional Court’s eventual decision to overturn the prohibition was due to its incompatibility with the constitutional right of freedom of religion.
It is uncertain what will happen in Denmark and the UK but given the response to Poland’s now non-existent ban as well as the considerably higher Jewish and Muslim population of the two former countries, it is probable that the reaction in Poland was but a glimpse into the repercussions of such a prohibition.