By Henry Grunwald
The furore in the media that greeted Animal Aid’s covert filming of abuses at a Muslim owned abattoir in Boxwood, calling for a ban on all religious slaughter, was ear-blasting. Contrast that with the almost total silence that met the release a few days later of another secretly filmed video of a “conventional” abattoir in Staffordshire, showing equally appalling abuse of animals.
I saw no Times editorial on the matter.
I heard no-one call for a ban on conventional slaughter.
This has been a recurring pattern for the last 12 months. You will all remember the many inaccurate and misleading newspaper reports about religious slaughter that have been published.
However much we try to correct them, the slur remains.
The term “ritual slaughter” still appears, despite our repeatedly telling journalists that there is no ritual in shechita.
We have long argued that these reports have less to do with a genuine concern over animal welfare than they do with stoking the fires of communal discord.
We would prefer an honest and accurate debate on the issue.
Shechita is facing a challenging time in the days, weeks and months ahead.
In the coming weeks we are expecting the release of a European Commission report on consumer attitudes to the labelling of meat slaughtered according to a religious method.
The report might conclude, as has the British Veterinary Association (BVA), that all meat should be labelled either “stunned” or “unstunned”, and there is a possibility that government support for such a policy could follow.
Shechita UK has constantly recommended a far more honest and even-handed approach to labelling and we have urged the BVA to join us.
Our view has been clear from the outset. It is bizarre and incongruous to pre-suppose that consumers’ rights do not extend to informing them that an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter using methods such as asphyxiation by gas, electrocution by tongs or water or shooting with a captive bolt gun.
Similarly, consumers must have the right to know if the animal endured repeat mechanical stuns if the first attempt was ineffective. We have submitted our views to those who carried out the report but we are aware that there are many opposing us.
The topic of labelling has been discussed many times in Westminster over the last few months and the UK government has repeatedly referred to the EU report. This means that whatever the findings – we expect to have yet another fight on our hands in the coming months.
In the most immediate future, on Monday, in a Westminster Hall debate triggered by a petition initiated by the BVA, MPs will debate whether religious slaughter should be banned in the UK. We are confident that our constant and persistent campaigning over many years, will protect us from any meaningful shift in the government’s clear support for our right to carry out shechita but there is no question that the campaign against us is gaining in momentum.
We at Shechita UK take responsibility for ensuring that key Parliamentarians are fully briefed on all aspects of Shechita, and the importance that Judaism places on animal welfare.
MPs have been sent a Shechita UK briefing pack, and we have met with and spoken with many who will participate in the debate.
As the election approaches, many MPs feel that their time is better spent away from Westminster and out in the field campaigning.
We all need to make it clear that there is nothing more important for us than standing up for the Jewish community in this debate.
You must play your part in protecting shechita by calling upon your MP to attend the debate on Monday the 23rd February, familiarise him/herself with the Shechita UK briefing pack and speak up on our behalf.
As the general election approaches, many MPs are quick to insist that they are passionate supporters of our rights but Monday is the time for them to prove it to us.