The Government has reiterated its pledge to protect religious slaughter after Jewish and Muslim peers joined together to make the case for the practise in Britain.

Contributions in defence of shechita came from many of the country’s most high-profile Jewish peers during an hour-long House of Lords debate initiated by Lord Trees, a former President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

While recognising that both faiths have “great concern” for animals and insisting he was not calling for a ban on slaughter without pre-stunning, Lord Trees claimed that “unnecessary suffering is being caused to a very substantial number of animals by slaughter without stunning”.

He added: “I sincerely ask the Muslim and Jewish communities to consider whether ancient practices, for which there were good reasons many hundreds of years ago, are necessary today. There are non-lethal, non-invasive methods of stunning”.

But Lord Sacks described shechita as “a most humane method of animal slaughter”.  “The animal must be killed by a single cut with an instrument of surgical sharpness, and in the absence of anything that might impede its smooth and swift motion. The cut achieves three things: it stuns, kills and exsanguinates in a single act,” he said. He also raised concerns over the effectiveness of other methods involving pre-stunning, saying a captive bolt often fails the first time.

DEFRA minister Lord De Maulay said: “While the Government would prefer to see all animals stunned before slaughter, we respect the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Lord De Maulay also referred to a European Commission study expecting shortly on labelling of meat not stunned.  Saying the Government supported those calling for consumers to have information to make an informed choice, he added: “We will look carefully at what options are available for providing information to consumers in the light of the study.” Lib Dem Lord Palmer said earlier he had no issue with such a move, but that labels should also indicate methods such captive bolt and gassing rather than just whether it was been pre-stunned.

Shimon Cohen, Campaign Director of Shechita UK, said: “The support that we have seen today from both Jewish and non-Jewish Peers has been quite incredible and the community truly owes them a debt of gratitude for the speed at which they familiarized themselves with the subject matter so that they could speak so authoritatively on it during the debate.”