A former minister whose brief included animal welfare has said there is “a real problem with the mainstreaming of religious slaughter” as he proposed post-cut stunning and stricter quotas for kosher meat in the UK.
Conservative MP George Eustice, who served as Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for six years until February this year, made the comments during a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday.
Eustice said there was “alarm… at the growth of religious slaughter” but stopped short of calling for a ban, calling on the Government instead to label meat as “un-stunned” and give MPs a free vote on the issue.
He said changes to require post-cut stunning of all bovine animals would “recognise that there is an issue with the physiology of bovines, which leads to a long and protracted death,” adding: “I do not believe that a post-cut stun would violate the religious beliefs of either the Halal Food Authority or Shechita UK.”
Eustice said there was “some rabbinical support for the idea of post-cut stunning, and we know that some abattoirs producing kosher meat allow post-cut stunning of bovine animals”.
However a spokesperson for Shechita UK dismissed the idea, saying: “We are in regular contact with the Rabbinical Authorities in the UK and post-cut stunning is not the normative halachic position.”
On the issue of labelling, Eustice said the problem would be service-sector meat. “In the case of kosher meat… the hind quarters of an animal are not deemed kosher, even if the animal was slaughtered under kosher methods,” he explained.
“That means that the rump of cattle and sheep ends up going into the mainstream market, usually the service trade through Smithfield, where unwitting customers in restaurants buy the meat not knowing it has been slaughtered by kosher methods.”
In the same debate his fellow Conservative MP Neil Parish, who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, urged better labelling post-Brexit.
“As we leave the EU, we must be much firmer on how we label and how we manage it, and we must ensure that more animals are not stunned than are needed for particular religions,” he said.
David Rutley MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Government was “upping the pace on animal welfare” but acknowledged “sensitivities on both sides”.
Rutley added that post-cut stunning “must respect religious views,” saying: “The area that we should focus on, because it brings most people together, is labelling.”
A spokesperson from Shechita UK: “Shechita UK has been at the forefront of the labelling debate, seeking to ensure that the consumer is given full and honest information and not being misled into believing that mechanical stunning is some kind of therapeutic process. Comprehensive method of slaughter labelling which would ensure that consumers know whether their meat has been mechanically stunned by asphyxiation, electric shock or any of the legal methods, is accepted by religious communities and animal welfare groups alike.”
Ivan Lewis, an independent Jewish MP for Bury South who resigned from the Labour Party in December, said Eustice’s suggestions “risk undermining the central tenet of our unwritten constitution, which is that religious freedom is important in our society”.
He added that “there is no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that shechita [Jewish religious slaughter] is any less acceptable than other forms of slaughter”.
Shechita UK added: “The science on religious slaughter is not conclusive and Shechita is supported by an ample body of scientific evidence. It is disappointing that Mr Eustace only presented one side of the argument.”