Jewish community leaders have protested to the RSPCA over a call for the compulsory labelling of meat from animals that were not pre-stunned, claiming religious communities had been “singled out” by the charity.
Shechita UK said the focus placed on faith groups in a statement issued last week by the prominent animal welfare organisation was “deeply insulting”.
“We agree that all meat should be labelled with clear information on method of slaughter,” said Shechita UK’s Shimon Cohen. “What we cannot support – indeed what we find deeply insulting – is the suggestion that religious communities should be singled out for labelling.”
The advocacy group said methods of mechanical stunning – which would not be labelled under the RSPCA proposal – included captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping and clubbing.
“It seems incongruous to us to presuppose that consumers should have a right to know that their meat has been slaughtered by religious methods but not by mechanical methods,” said Cohen. “The RSPCA’s press release claims it ‘recognises religious beliefs and practices which should be respected’. In our view, they have again failed in this regard and we will be contacting them to say as much.”
The response comes after the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals called on its supporters to contact their local European politicians, or MEPs, urging them to support the labelling initiative.
With the consumption of certain parts of the animals’ hindquarters forbidden under Jewish law, some estimates suggest that less than half the meat from animals slaughtered through shechita is sold in kosher shops. Some of the meat is therefore sold to the wider public but is not labelled as being from animals that have been slaughtered without pre-stunning.
“Method of slaughter labelling will provide consumers with clearer information about how animals are treated at the end of their life,” said Dr Julia Wrathall, head of the RSPCA’s farm animal science department.
“We would rather see all animals pre-stunned before they are killed, however we believe labelling that clearly differentiates between animals that have been stunned or non pre-stunned is still a step in the right direction,” she added.
The call for specific labelling from the RSPCA comes at a time when European Jewish groups are battling a continent-wide attack against shechita, which has already seen religious slaughter outlawed in Poland. But there is fears over a push for labelling on the continent.
Cohen said: “Our challenge across Europe now – as campaigners call for labelling of ‘non-stunned’ meat – is to make it as clear as possible that shechita incorporates an integral stun, which conforms to the EU legal definition of stunning and is no less effective or humane than mechanical methods – therefore any proposed labelling system must reflect that.”