By Shimon Cohen, Campaign Director, Shechita UK
Enjoying chicken soup and chopped liver is, for many, an essential part of Jewish life. But we must not take the ready availability of kosher meat for granted.
Over the past few months, we have been reminded of the battle that we face to produce kosher meat in the United Kingdom and throughout the member states of the Europe Union.
Shechita, the Jewish humane method of slaughtering animals for food, has long been the subject of intense media scrutiny and these latest attacks make it even more important for our community to be aware of and contribute to the campaign to protect our religious practices for ourselves and for future generations.
In March of this year, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, called for a ban on all ‘non-stun’ slaughter in the UK. He alleged that shechita is ‘inhumane’ and claiming that a ban was ‘not a long way off’.
Mr Blackwell chose to completely ignore the large body of scientific evidence that concludes that shechita is a humane method of slaughter.The animal welfare lobby’s ongoing fascination with shechita is misplaced. There are many more pressing animal welfare issues in the UK.
For example, each year in the UK approximately 750 million chickens are shackled live, hanging upside down, while hooked to a production line for many minutes before the mechanical stunning and slaughtering process even starts. The plight of these birds gets worse when the stunning process goes wrong, causing further pain and distress to the chickens. The BVA remains silent on this.
Thus it seems bizarre that campaigners continue to focus on the tiny number of animals killed using the Jewish method every year. Politically, however, the Jewish community is in good shape, having received strong assurances on the future of shechita.
These political assurances culminated in the Prime Minster, David Cameron, making a robust speech at the Knesset, where, once again, he guaranteed that the right to carry out shechita in the UK would be protected on his watch. This was subsequently supported by the leaders of the three other large political parties, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. Nevertheless, Parliament has continued to focus on the issue of religious slaughter with a large amount of debate surrounding food labelling.
The Jewish community has and always will be in favour of labelling. In fact, some might argue that we invented it with our system of placing a hechsher (kosher stamp) on kosher products. But we must not be the subject of pejorative labelling. To label meat as “stunned” or “non-stunned” is misleading.
The European Union definition of stunning animals for slaughter is “any intentionally induced process which causes loss of consciousness and sensibility without pain, including any process resulting in instantaneous death,” shechita fully conforms to this definition. It is also important to understand that mechanical stunning was not created for the purposes of safeguarding animal welfare.
In fact, it began as a factory process designed to move animals through the abattoir quickly by paralysing them to prevent the involuntary spasms that occur after slaughter. Additionally, these mechanical stunning methods are not clinical procedure where animals fall quietly to sleep.
On the contrary, they can be both brutal and extremely painful for the animal. If consumers were aware that meat from conventional industrialised slaughterhouses had been shot, gassed, electrocuted, clubbed, drowned or trapped before it arrived on their plate, it may even be that many of them would choose to buy kosher meat.
The government will continue to look closely at the issue of labelling over the coming months, and we must be vigilant. A report from the European Commission is expected towards the end of the year, but the issues are wide ranging and are a constant source of debate. We hear with alarming regularity about issues with the food chain – whether horse meat or fat content and consumers demand more information.
On the other hand, there seems to be a complete disconnect between what we see on the farm and what we eat. When someone visits the zoo, it doesn’t stop them from eating meat for lunch nor have sales of meat pies significantly fallen since last year’s horsemeat scandals. To create a label that caters to all sides is neither an easy task nor one that will be resolved quickly.
This debate will play out in Europe, Westminster and the regional assemblies over the coming months and it is essential there is a team of people who take responsibility for protecting the Jewish communities’ right to practice shechita.
Shechita UK takes responsibility for closely monitoring the media, for anything that could be of concern as well as closely monitoring developments in Westminster, Brussels and Strasbourg.
When an issue arises we must, of course, respond swiftly and appropriately. We are often approached by members of the community and asked: “What can I do to help?” It’s for this reason that Shechita UK, together with the National Council of Shechita Boards, has created a new logo that will be appearing in butchers shops around the UK.
This logo is there to let you know that the butcher is contributing to the cost of shechita defence and therefore, by supporting that butcher, you are also contributing to this cause.
We hope this will encourage other butcher shops to contribute to the cost of the campaign. By doing this, we hope for continued success and that we will be able to continue to practice shechita freely and openly in the UK for many years to come.