Shechita UK has reacted angrily to a letter from animal welfare organisations to DEFRA which urged the introduction of labelling animals which undergo religious slaughter.
In a letter on Friday to Secretary of State Michael Gove, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and British Veterinary Association said: “Scientific evidence clearly indicates that slaughter without pre-stunning can cause unnecessary suffering.
“The level of restraint required to hold an animal still, expose the throat, and perform an effective neck cut is typically greater than that needed for stunned slaughter.
“When the neck cut is performed it triggers a barrage of sensory information to the brain in the conscious animal.
“Clearly, the legal requirement to stun animals prior to slaughter is underpinned by the fact that a stun is an essential prerequisite to safeguard the welfare of all animals at the time of killing.”
The RSPCA and BVA added: “Indeed, it is the UK Government’s stated position that they would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter.”
They also demanded the introduction of method of slaughter labelling, saying: “Some animals that are intended for the markets serving religious communities do not reach the required standards demanded by these communities for a number of reasons: for example, the knife may have been damaged during the process or the meat from the hindquarters may not be considered kosher.
“This then leads to the animal, or animal part, being rejected for consumption by the religious community and, as a result, the animal is likely to enter the mainstream supply chain and conventional market.
“If slaughter without stunning is still to be permitted, then any meat or fish from this source must be clearly labelled. This will enable consumers to fully understand the choice they are making when purchasing such products.”
However, Shimon Cohen, the Campaign Director of Shechita UK, accused the RSPCA and BVA of sounding like a “cracked record”.
He added: “It is also worth noting that shechita is supported by an ample body of scientific evidence, something that both the RSPCA and the BVA refuse to acknowledge.
“We know that the level of kosher slaughter has remained consistent over many years. It would therefore be inappropriate to apply any of the RSPCA and BVA’s suggestions to kosher slaughter.”
Cohen pointed out that contrary to the belief that mechanical stunning was “some kind of therapeutic, calm, relaxing, medicinal process which gently sends the animal into a woozy state of unconsciousness”, it was “aggressive… designed to speed up factories’ slaughter processes, with dubious welfare claims tagged on”.
He added: “We are encouraged that many involved in labelling discussions have now moved on to open, honest and comprehensive method of slaughter labelling which would ensure that consumers know whether their meat has been mechanically stunned by asphyxiation by gas, Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning (LAPS), electrocution by tongs or electric water-bath or shooting with a captive bolt gun into the brain; or indeed Shechita.
“There have been detailed discussions on all sides but sadly the BVA has moved away from their endorsement of comprehensive labelling.
“We would encourage all involved in the labelling debate to work with religious communities in a respectful manner, to ensure that any labelling gives the consumer a full understanding of every stage of the slaughter process.”